/ Feb 24, 2007
Nine Years For Nothing: Egyptian Blogger Abdelkareem Nabil Soliman Goes on Trial
Egyptians have a strong aversion to being compared to animals. Perhaps it’s the centuries of Islamic thought that have made them cringe at the insults “homar,” “hayawan” and “kalb” (donkey, animal, and dog, respectively), but what can you expect from a religion that calls Christians and Jews “apes and pigs”? (And monkeys, for that matter.)
Nonetheless (or perhaps “Having said that,”), I must take the next logical step and proclaim that the Egyptian Government is not only all of these, but that it would have to improve a great deal in order to become worthy of those titles.
That’s right. I just heard what’s been happening to Abdelkareem Nabil Soliman, otherwise known as “The Egyptian Blogger,” and I have to say that I’m about three centimeters from “going postal.”
It’s not enough that the criminals “running” the country allow egregious double standards in order to protect the sick way they do things—oh, you don’t know what I’m talking about?
Well, imagine that you’re a Christian and you kill a Muslim. You get the death penalty.
But if a Muslim kills a Christian, he may not even get a month in jail.
If a Muslim speaks out against Christians, or beats them up, or helps kidnap their girls, he is praised as a true Egyptian or a religious hero.
But if you’re a Christian speaking against Islam, the penalty is stiff.
(Since Islam is “the better religion” and all. Yeah. So better, in fact, that it either allows or does not forbid the mistreatment you’re going to read about here today. And if it doesn’t allow it, then maybe everyone in the government, police, etc. should be charged with not following Islam, kind of like certain people in Egyptian jails were recently asked “Do you fast during Ramadan? Do you pray?” and other such *gems.)
And if you’re a Muslim speaking against Islam, the “religion of peace,” then the penalty is as hard as the floor you get to sleep on, or the lead pipe you might soon feel against the your skull or the backs of your legs.
But you might not know what I’m talking about yet. Don’t worry, you will.
For those of you unfamiliar with Kareem and his case, let me give you a quick rundown:
In late 2005, there were several riots in the neighborhood of Maharram Bey (also spelled “Moharram Bek” and the like) in Alexandria, Egypt.
Four were killed, a nun was stabbed, and thousands of Muslims overtook the streets like rabid cattle, destroying Copt-owned property and businesses, looting and stealing what they could find. (Copts are indigenous Egyptian Christians, by the way).
This was somewhat unprecedented, since anti-Coptic movements, whether targeting property or “illegally-built churches” (don’t ask.. well, ok—you have to get the signature of the governor or president if you want to fix, modify, or build a church, even though Muslims don’t need such high-level approval to do the same for their mosques) or human life had heretofore been restricted (for the most part) to villages in the Saiid, Upper Egypt.
That’s not to say that violence never happened in the more cosmopolitan cities of Cairo (the nation’s capital) or Alexandria (the Mediterranean-lying heaven that Kareem was born and raised in), only that it’s such things as tourism, more exposure to the West, and more people per square inch that likely keep these towns at a less “fighting with the flies on the wall” state of affairs.
Sure, Egypt has never been an easy place for Christians to live, what with the persecution and restrictions and double standards—but all in all, Coptic-Muslim relations aren’t quite as bad as in the villages.
These Maharram Bey riots, however, sparked a string of seemingly Islam-driven events against Christians, including knife attacks in several Alexandria churches.
(I bring Islam into this only because perpetrators were heard yelling “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) as they lunged for their quarry or drove the steel into their victims.)
Kareem, then a 21-year-old law student at Al Azhar, witnessed the riots first-hand, and went on to write an article about it.
Annaqed.com writer Ahmed Salib (www.ahmedsalib.com) says that the article in question was published on October 23, 2005, and methodically went about “condemning the riot, and, indeed, the entire Islamic religion; [Kareem] was subsequently arrested on 26 October 2005 for the inflammatory not-quite-rhetoric, entitled ‘The naked truth about Islam as I saw it in Maharram Beh.’ It first appeared on his blog (in Arabic), but you can read my translation here:
“The Muslims have taken the mask off to show their true hateful face, and they have shown the world that they are at the top of their brutality, inhumanity, and thievery.
They have clearly shown their worst features and have shown that in dealing with others they are not governed by any moral codes.
From what I have seen yesterday of the events at Maharram Beh, which were quite shameful, and have shown me more facts that they have tried to cover over the centuries, they have indicated that Islam is a religion of peace and forgiveness, but their true face has been uncovered to show barbarism and thievery and fanaticism and not acknowledging others, and attempting to remove them from existence.”
(Source: http://www.annaqed.com/english/under/expelled_from_al_azhar_for_exposing_the_truth.html )
He was released soon after, and all was silent.
For a while.
Then, in early 2006, he was expelled from Al Azhar, the most prestigious Islamic University in the world. Several attempts were made on his safety and his life, but he managed to escape every time.
Kareem emailed a friend on October 29th, 2006, saying that he was to be detained in the next few days, and held for questioning. Then he was taken in.
Kareem has been “detained” since early November, awaiting the trial that will determine his release date. At that time, the charges against him included:
- Spreading data and malicious rumors that disrupt public security
- Defaming the President of Egypt
- Incitement to overthrow the regime upon hatred and contempt
- Incitement to hate "Islam" and breach of the public peace standards
- Highlighting inappropriate aspects that harm the reputation of Egypt and spreading them to the public
(Source: http://www.hrinfo.net/en/reports/2006/pr1107.shtml )
Unfortunately for the current Egyptian government, it’s their practices that are inappropriate, not to mention in violation of Articles 18 and 19 of the **Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
And the notion that Kareem harmed the reputation of Egypt is absurd—The government itself is the one guilty of harming the reputation of Egypt!
Do they really think they can abuse their citizens and then ask these victims to hide the crimes that they, Egypt, have carried about against them? It’s a good thing the government is not the one on trial, because they have a real shot at an insanity plea.
But back to Kareem.
The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information had this to say about the bogus charges:
“It is noteworthy that the claim no. 6677/2006 filed against Kareem in Mohram Bek Prosecution, Alexandria included arbitrary accusations which are considered to be in violation of the right to freedom of expression; a violation targeting Egyptian writers, intellectuals, and political activists for almost 50 years.”
(Source: http://www.hrinfo.net/en/reports/2006/pr1107.shtml )
Despite the unpopularity of Kareem’s actual thoughts, there are apparently many in the Middle East who nonetheless feel that he should have the right to think them (and write about them), because the following organizations are just some of the ones who got involved with supporting Kareem’s release. Check out who was involved in November:
1. The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
2. The Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement
3. The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
4. Association for Human Rights Legal Aid
5. Habi Center for Environmental Rights
6. Al-Nadeem Center for Psychological Rehabilitation and Treatment of Victims of Violence
7. Hisham Mubarak Law Center
8. Land Center for Human Rights
9. Shomuu Association for Human Rights and People with Disabilities
10. Egyptian Center for Human Rights
11. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
12. The Civil Observatory of Human Rights
13. Al-Ganob Center for Human Rights
14. Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights
(Source: http://www.hrinfo.net/en/reports/2006/pr1111.shtml )
And the number of Kareem supporters (“freedom of speech supporters,” if you think about it) champing at the bit, desperate for information on the impending case has been growing by leaps and bounds.
Well, the trial began last week, on January 18th, although the lawyers have asked for time to review the case, causing the court to re-adjourn on January 25th. Until then, however, the following letter was sent to the Egyptian Minister of Justice:
“Mr. Mamdouh Marei
Egyptian Minister of Justice
Paris, 22 January 2007
Reporters Without Borders and the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, organizations that defend freedom of expression, would like to ask you to intercede on behalf of blogger Abdel Kareem Nabil Suleiman (better known by the name of Kareem Amer), whose trial is due to start on 25 January in Alexandria. Held since 6 November, he faces up to nine years in prison for posting articles critical of Islam on his blog (www.karam903.blogspot.com).
We hope you will follow this case closely and ensure that this young blogger is released soon. The freedom with which Mr. Suleiman expresses himself may cause displeasure, but he must assume responsibility for what he writes, which poses no danger to national security. A prison sentence would therefore bring disgrace on the Egyptian judicial system and sully your country's image. Particularly because Article 151 of Egyptian Constitution stipulates that any agreement signed and ratified by Egypt becomes part of domestic law and applied like any other legislation. Egypt is a state party to the International Covenant for Civil and Political Right, in which articles 18 and 19 clearly stipulate everyone's right to freedom of expression, opinion, thought, conscience and religion. Subsequently, no one should ever be imprisoned for a press offence or for the views they express.
We would also like to draw your attention to the harsh conditions in which this young blogger is being held and the worrying state of his health. He has been in solitary confinement for more than two months. This has left him very weak and has affected him psychologically.
We trust you will give this matter your careful consideration.
Reporters without borders
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information”
It should be noted that despite the spate of Egyptian bloggers’ arrests in the past year, Kareem is the first Egyptian blogger to actually face charges and be tried in court.
In the best-case scenario, the psychopaths that are crazy enough to have taken him into custody will snap out of it and release him pronto.
If that doesn’t happen, then Kareem might be jailed for up to nine years for expressing his not-at-all-radical thoughts.
Keep in mind that he’s being treated badly now, and it’s just supposed to be a detention (meaning he hasn’t even been sentenced yet, meaning this doesn’t even count as jail time. As of now, he’s just “in custody,” illegally, for “punitive reasons,” and because they deem him a “flight risk”).
Reports have said that he’s getting one meal every two days, and his own lawyer said that the young man was severely fatigued and exhausted. Apart from starving him, there’s no telling if the hired thugs/guards have been torturing him or exposing him to sub-human conditions and/or severe sleep deprivation techniques.
Varied accounts have Kareem in solitary confinement as a punishment, as a protection from other prisoners, so that the guards can mistreat him even more than the other prisoners, or even at his own request.
And there’s no telling what could happen if he ends up in jail for months or years (since the guards and other prisoners are, undoubtedly, more into Islam than Kareem is).
And if things go less well... he could get the death penalty. For insulting Mubarak and insulting Islam.
And unfortunately, there are many Egyptians who think Kareem deserves the worst for criticizing a government that cannibalizes the very people it’s supposed to be protecting, and the religion that’s the basis for it.
Too bad these people don’t know Kareem—his kindness, his good heart, his sweet smile, his love of art and foreign film—or realize how he’s an ardent supporter of freedom, liberty, women’s rights, equality, and other values that sane people generally have. (Though I must say that Kareem is enough of a Mensch to fight for the freedom of speech and rights of people whose ideas he disagrees with, and would likely fight for the freedoms of the very people who are happy to diss and dismiss him.)
Too bad these people are so hateful that they could smile upon hearing a verdict of nine years or death, just over a wee bit of (much needed) constructive criticism directed towards a country that’s going down the tubes, and a religion whose basic premises are inequality and violence. (As evidenced by... hmm. This case?)
If that’s all it takes, then “Mubarak is the son of a washer woman, and the prophet is dodging flames with the Marquis de Sade as we speak.”
Yalla, Egyptian Government, come and get me too. But I won’t be the only one.
The streets will be lined with courageous Copts and free-thinkers and moderate Muslims and atheists and Westerners, and you will never be able to arrest us all.
But even if you did, it would be worth it!
It would be an honor to stand with a young man who had enough cajones to not only voice an opinion that may be less-than-popular in Egypt, but to fight for those who have no voice, even if he disagrees with what they’re saying.
Which is more than I can say for some people.
* See http://www.hrinfo.net/en/reports/2006/pr1107.shtml for more on the illegal and unethical questioning tactics from the early November interrogation.
** “Article 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948, states:
Article 18: "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change religion or belief, the freedom to manifest religion or belief in worship, observance, practice, and teaching either alone or in community with others and in public or private."
Article 19: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."
(Source: http://www.hrinfo.net/en/reports/2006/pr1111.shtml )
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