February 28, 2007


THE BUSH administration has tolerated Egypt’s brutal crackdown on domestic dissent and the broader reversal of its democratic spring of 2005 in part because President Hosni Mubarak argues that his adversaries are dangerous Islamic extremists. It’s true that the largest opposition movement in Egypt is the Muslim Brotherhood; how dangerous it is can be debated. But what is overlooked is that Mr. Mubarak reserves his most relentless repression not for the Islamists — who hold a fifth of the seats in parliament — but for the secular democrats who fight for free elections, a free press, rights for women and religious tolerance.

The latest case in point is a blogger named Abdel Kareem Nabil Soliman, who was sentenced to four years in prison last week on charges of religious incitement, disrupting public order and “insulting the president.” A brave and provocative 22-year-old student, Mr. Soliman first achieved notice with postings that denounced riots in Alexandria directed at Egypt’s Christian Copt minority. He said the brutality he witnessed was the result of extremist Islamic teachings, in part by his own university, Al-Azhar, which he called “the other face of al-Qaeda.” . . .

As a political prisoner, Mr. Soliman will join Ayman Nour, who was sentenced a year ago on fabricated charges after he ran for president against Mr. Mubarak on a liberal democratic platform. As many as 800 members of the Muslim Brotherhood have also been jailed in the past year. This by a government that continues to be one of the largest recipients in the world of U.S. aid, collecting more than $2 billion a year. What do American subsidies support? Not least, the elimination of what would otherwise be the strongest secular democratic movement in the Arab Middle East.

Seems like we’re getting a bad deal. (Via Xeni Jardin, who emails: “I wonder how many Americans realize this guy is going to jail in part because he stood up for Egypt’s *Christian minority* on his blog? When Americans hear about these free speech cases in developing countries, I think many of us assume the issues at hand have nothing to do with our own cultures or faiths.”).

Danny Glover has more.

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