March 10, 2007

An independent Journalist about Kareem, Egyptian blogosphere and freedom of speech

Abdul, 29, working as a journalist for Al Fajr (The Dawn), an independent Arabic weekly newspaper running around 55’000 in the whole country:

Kareem Amer is a young man who has questions and he is right to ask these questions. In his blog he attacked the people’s faith. What happened to him would never have happened if he hadn’t lost the sympathy of the public opinion and of his relatives. This was a mistake. One can have some opinions but one should recognize that we are in a very religious society. As a European you have been surprised by the reactions in the Islamic world against the publishing of the Danish caricatures, but for me it was obvious because I know the mentality here, in spite of the fact that I believe in the same conception of freedom of expression like you. I just know that this can be dangerous here. In the case of Kareem, he has been punished because of the action itself of publishing his opinion. The mentality of the people here needs to develop. The people who denounced him to the police where from the Al Hazhar University. Personally I’m against this trial and against his punishment. My opinion is that it’s the El Hazhar University that should be punished because they denounced Kareem’s ideas to the police, rather than discussing them with him. During the trial Kareem said that he believes in God and that he’s not atheist, but that he has a critical opinion about religion, so we should not punish him for that, but rather discuss these ideas. To be an atheist is a very difficult issue here in Egypt.

Most of the people from the activist bloggers scene are friends of mine. They do a lot of good things. There are two examples where they played an important role: the recent scandal about a case of torture in a police station and cases of sexual harassment that happened at the end of last Ramadan in Cairo. They helped to widen the space of freedom. The government arrested Kareem as an example for the rest of the bloggers. This trial will affect them a lot because the government is using Kareem as a way to stain the bloggers reputation in the eyes of the public opinion, accusing them of spreading atheist ideas, which is against the society. So in the future the bloggers will have to face this prejudice even if they write in favour of more human rights.

Freedom of speech
Generally I’m free to write anything because there’s no censorship for the licensed newspapers before the publication. Afterwards other newspaper can attack both your company and you as a person, calling you a gay, a junkie or an adulterer, they may bring you down, insult your parents and even sue you. If you criticize someone, in particular a businessman owning a newspaper, he would let it attack you in turn. That’s the same with the security department. It disposes of the possibility to respond violently to you through the press. It’s also the case with some parties, for instance the Muslim Brotherhood. They possess their own newspapers. In front of them you will be like naked. When you’re boxing it’s not allowed to hit under the belt, here you have no belt. Three years ago it happened to me. I wrote something about Muslim Brotherhood. I wasn’t syndicated. Without discussing the issues I was speaking about, they called me an immoral person in their articles and insulted me on the street, saying that I belong to the security department. For a journalist, to be treated as a spy is the worse injury regarding your reputation. So it’s very dangerous to express oneself about religion because you can easily not only loose the sympathy of the public opinion, but also the respect other intellectuals owe you, especially if you question the faith. You can challenge the ideas or attack personally a sheikh or any important person but not the faith, the prophet or the holy things. Neither other prophets like Jesus elsewhere. I would never do it in a direct way because it touches other people’s freedom. Only a long experience would teach you how to deal with the public opinion and to measure the very tiny difference between faith and ideas. Laws, traditions and habits cross themselves, their limits are not clear, but they exist. It’s like a vast sea you can always sink into and then at every moment be accused to insult religion. It’s a highly fuzzy area. Furthermore critical views on main appointees or military topics, all what regards national security issues lead you into jail. But anyway the Egyptian laws are so tight in all matters that even if you’re speaking about the public water distribution services, you could appear in court.


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