Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Blogger power: subversion and ridicule
The Egyptian authorities have recently meted out a 4-year prison sentence to Kareem Amer, an outspoken 22-year old blogger for “inciting hatred of Islam” and "criticising President Hosni Mubarak".
The blogger community is incensed by this harsh punishment. His blog supporters have initiated a worldwide campaign to publicise his case and free him. Syrian bloggers, who would be just as exposed to the risk of government harassment and imprisonment back home, have taken up his case in solidarity.
For Middle East bloggers, Kareem’s sentence comes as no surprise. He has provoked both the religious and political establishments and challenged their legitimacy. He has also managed to upset many devout Muslims who do not necessarily support the authorities. His own father has disowned him and called for him to be hanged!
Like any 22-year old rebel, Kareem tends to see the world in black and white and be severely critical of injustice, hypocrisy and intolerance in his own community. But his real crime is that he has been able to propagate his private thoughts to the rest of the world and reach out to many people who happened to agree with him. His potential power to subvert has alarmed the authorities, so much so that Egyptian Prosecutor Mohammed Dawoud is reported to have accused Kareem of being an “apostate” who “has hurt every Muslim across the world,” and to have told The Associated Press, “I want him to get the toughest punishment. I am on a jihad here … If we leave the likes of him without punishment, it will be like a fire that consumes everything.”
It is well to remember that authoritarian governments and fundamentalists of any type fear most two things: media freedom and ridicule. The former challenges their ideas and legitimacy and subverts their power base and the latter exposes their fallibility and shatters their carefully-nurtured personality cult.
The blogosphere is the essence of media freedom. Bloggers who are sufficiently articulate and determined can attract many followers. Like modern-day Messiahs, they have the capacity to wage intellectual wars that could eventually topple regimes and rock the foundations of long-held value systems.
We have truly reached the point of no return. From now on, no single government, cult or culture will ever be able to brainwash and impose its will on any community that can use the Internet.
Let us not get carried away though; as Bridget Johnson of LA Daily News has reminded us, “Unless the global community takes a stand, Kareem’s imprisonment will not be the last”. I am certainly writing directly to every Egyptian cabinet minister and ambassador I can reach and to every international organisation that funds the Egyptian government to let them know my private thoughts! Bloggers acting alone or in unison can make a difference, and in this case we shall.
The names and contact details of the Egypt’s cabinet members are here.
The contact details of some Egyptian embassies and consulates are here.
The contact details of USAID's programme for Egypt are here.