Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Meaning of Kareem Amer's Conviction

I have been incredibly negligent in not commenting previously on the case of Egyptian blogger Abdel-Karim Nabil Suleiman, also known as Kareem Amer. After writing posts that vehemently criticized both Egypt's Mubarak regime and its leading Islamic authority, Al-Azhar University, Amer was arrested last November and tried for insulting Islam. On Thursday, Kareem Amer was convicted and sentenced to four years in prison.

I hope to post much more on the case of Kareem Amer and the climate of censorship imposed by both the Mubarak regime and Al-Azhar. In the meantime, Nick Cohen has some very pessimistic thoughts from today's Observer on what Kareem's conviction means for free expression on the Internet:

I have a book out, What's Left?, on the disastrous turning of the European liberal mainstream from their allies in the poor world and the gruesome alliances between pseudo-leftists and ultra-reactionaries. The Nabil case backs it up. With the honourable exceptions of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and, naturally, British bloggers, there have been no protests here.

As disconcerting as the silence from those who should know better is what the persecution of bloggers, not only in Egypt but in Iran and China, says about the net. As the dotcom boom and bust fades into history, the business press is again celebrating the revolutionary potential of a wired world. The discomfort of the mainstream media is just the start of it, they argue. The net is humbling big business as consumers compare the price of everything from gas to bank interest rates and take their custom to the corporations offering the best value. Meanwhile, doctors face patients who can find out if the NHS's treatments they are offered are the best available and politicians must cope with an electorate that can investigate the claims of soundbites and manifestos with a click of a mouse.

The cheerleaders are right in many respects. The net is changing the world, but not all of it. Contrary to the optimism of the Nineties, that it would allow oppressed peoples to escape censors and read forbidden opinions, the net is proving surprisingly easy for dictatorships to control.

I have usually been an optimist regarding the possibilities of the Internet as a tool for free expression, but I'm afraid Mr. Cohen may have a point.


Anonymous davette said...

Egypt wants to be host of the UN Internet Governance Forum in 2009 according to a Boston Globe editorial ("The Blogger & the Pharaoh" 2/26/07). It will be interesting to see if their campaign succeeds.

12:10 PM  

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