The following is the translation of an article I wrote for the online youth magazine of the German weekly “Die Zeit” (The Time), Zuender. It was published three days after the first anniversary of Kareem’s prison sentence, on February 25. Dealing not only with his case, but also with the situation of bloggers in the Middle East in general it is devoted to the memorial of Kareem and was written as a contribution to the worldwide op-ed day campaign.
The original article can be found here.
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„We blog, because we believe“
One year ago Egyptian blogger Kareem Amer was sent to prison because he had insulted the Islam.
by Simon Columbus
His fingers form the victory sign, but Kareem Amer has not won, on the contrary: On February 22 of the last year, the student of the Al-Azhar University in Cairo was sentenced to an accumulated four years in prison. Three years for allegedly insulting Islam, another year for defaming the Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.
Kareem Amer, who’s real name is Abdul Kareem Nabeel Suleiman, described the incident in his blog as attacks by thieves and looters – the religious conflict were nothing but an excuse. And he goes on: „put Islam on trial and sentence it and its symbols (…) so that you can be sure that what happened yesterday will never be repeated again.“
Hard words in a country where Islam is the state religion and the Sharia the base of the legislation. Even many of those who are now fighting for Kareem Amer’s release don’t agree with his polemic.
„As Muslims, we certainly do not agree with what he said and the manner in which he said it in“, says Esra’a Al-Shafei from Bahrain, „however we do feel the need to protect his basic human rights for the sake of all of us.“
Therefore Esra’a Al-Shafei has initiated the Campaign „Free Kareem!“. On the Internet, the supporters collect informations about the prisoner and organize worldwide protests.
Kareem Amer is one of many: A rising generation of educated young sons and daughters from the Middle east has claimed the internet as a way of expression. Foaud Al-Farhan, another jailed blogger from Saudi Arabia, says what this generation thinks: „We blog, because we believe we have opinions that deserve to be heard, and minds that should be respected.“
Many of the young bloggers do not write only about politics, but most of them mention political topics again and again. They want to discuss and to exchange themselves, about their lives as well as about the problems of the Near and Middle East.
For Fouad Al-Farhan, this is only possible through forums, social networks and blogs on the internet, because there were no free media or freedom to assemble in the autocratically lead countries of the region.
The current annual report of the non-government organization Reporters without Borders comes to the conclusion that there is no press freedom in any of the Near and Middle Eastern countries: „Flattery is still the best way to keep one’s job and freedom.“
All the more influential have become the young bloggers, who are able to write what they really think. They bring problems to public attention which are ignored by the state-controlled media. Many of the work under nicknames, use anonymizers to protect themselves.
About a dozen detentions and threats of bloggers through Egyptian officers were counted by the Initiative for an Open Arab Net in 2007. Also in the Near and Middle East, the war against terror gives an excuse to legitimate raids and blocks of websites.
Repeatedly, bloggers became victims of political conflicts: Ahmed Al-Omran, one of the most prominent Saudi bloggers, believes that his compatriot Fouad Al-Farhan is arrested as a scapegoat. He had gotten in the middle of a conflict between King Abdullah, who is pressing for reforms, and his conservative officials.
Kareem Amer had a similar fate: Most probably he is detained because the police tried to part the Egyptian blogosphere in Islamist members of the Muslim Brotherhood and liberal reformists.
Kareem Amer was expelled from his family just before he was sent to jail – his father even called for the death sentence. Because Egyptian prisoners depend on their families for their daily needs, Esra’a Al-Shafei and the team of „Free Kareem!“ collect donors for him. In a letter from prison, the detained let them know as a thank: „Prison didn’t change me“.