My friend Marc Lynch offered a challenging and provocative post ten days ago about “selective indignation”. He pointed out that Kareem Amer Soliman – a blogger sentenced to four years in prison for his online writings about the Egyptian government and about Islam – was receiving a great deal of attention in the global blogosphere, including a well-organized campaign to lobby for his release. Marc has argued that support for a blogger whose views happen to align with western critiques of Islam and failure to lobby for the free speech rights of other Egyptian activists sends a complex and contradictory message from the northern blogosphere to bloggers in the Middle East. Are we advocating for free speech, or for speech we’re inclined to agree with?
Marc’s question got an interesting test when blogger Adb al-Monem Mahmoud was arrested by Egyptian security forces. Monem is one of the key figures behind the Muslim Brotherhood’s embrace of blogging, including their English-language website, Ikhwanweb. Marc, Alaa and other friends believe that Monem is being held because his profile is rising in the international media and because the Brotherhood is beginning to use blogs very effectively as an organizing tool.
It’s really worth listening to Alaa Adbel Fateh, focus of the Free Alaa campaign last year, as he writes about Monem. Alaa’s an organizer of Kefaya, and his politics are far, far to the left of Monem’s. But the two have appeared together to highlight the problems of police brutality against activists in Egypt, and the two share a deep passion for the way technology can help enable social change. In a post titled “Free Monem”, Alaa writes:
When I got arrested back in May 2006, thousands of people across the globe joined in an international campaign of solidarity asking for my release. I’m forever grateful to every single person who participated in that campaign, while it did not actually result in my immediate release it ensured I wasn’t tortured or maltreated in prison and it helped the cause of freedom and democracy in Egypt by bringing it to the attention of millions through blogs and main stream media.
and today I ask you to show the same solidarity for my friend and fellow blogger Abdol Monem Mahmoud. while we blong to different political ideologies we shared the same vision and in fact Monem did more for the cause of democracy in Egypt that I would ever hope to achieve.
Unfortunately, we’ve not yet seen this international outpouring of support for Monem’s release. Marc points out that the only two English blogs that seem to be covering Monem’s arrest are his site and Global Voices, where our amazing Middle East and advocacy teams have been covering the story at length. There’s a strong campaign for his release, but the campaign is almost entirely in Arabic and is primarily drawing regional support, not global support.
Amira al-Hussani, our Middle East editor, and Sami ben Gharbia, our advocacy director have both been concerned with the question of what bloggers in trouble do and don’t get coverage in the international blogosphere. Amira tracks the conversation in several Egyptian blogs to show that there’s mutual support between Monem and Kareem’s supporters, and that Monem explicitly showed support for Kareem’s cause some weeks ago, saying:
I disagree with Abdul Kareem Amer’s views. However, I do not disagree, at all, that this security practice is unjust towards a youth in the prime of his life. Punishing him, or punishing others having their opinions, will not succeed in changing their ideas.
Sami, who is currently translating an interview he did with Monem at the Al Jazeera forum in Doha shortly before Monem’s arrest, looks at the disparity in blogosphere coverage on a variety of bloggers who’ve been imprisoned, threatened or otherwise silenced. It’s an amazing overview of cases that deserve the support and attention of the international blogosphere.
Egyptian security forces announced today that they’d be extending Monem’s detention at least 15 more days – we can expect this detention to continue, especially in the absence of international attention and pressure. I’ve been speaking about Monem’s situation in every talk I’ve given the past two weeks, arguing that we’re at a critical juncture in blogging, where activists are discovering the power of the medium and governments are looking for ways to silence these activists. Anyone who wants the blogosphere to remain a space useful for advocates needs to stand up and advocate for everyone who is being persecuted for exercising their rights to free speech online.
Free Monem. Free Kareem. The right to free speech, online and offline, is an absolute. If we care about defending these rights, we have to speak up for everyone whose rights are violated and threatened, especially those we don’t always agree with…