More information on Abdolkarim Suleiman's detention

Our friend Elijah Zarwan writes from Cairo, where he's involved with a number of human rights efforts. He recently travelled to Alexandria to meet with Mohammed Morsi and Malek Moustafa, Egyptian bloggers who've been working hard to document the arrest and detention of Abdolkarim Suleiman. Elijah, Mohammed, Malek and an human rights attorney met with Suleiman's family, trying to learn more about the case – Elijah's account and analysis of the situation follows below.

We've posted pieces about Suleiman's detention previously, as Justice for Abdolkarim and Egyptian Blogger Taken in Detention.

At 3 a.m. on October 26, plainclothes security agents arrested Abdolkarim Suleiman from his home in the Muharram Bek district of Alexandria, which had been the site of deadly sectarian clashes over the two previous weeks. The security agents, who produced no warrant, searched Suleiman's house and confiscated printed copies of his online writings. Suleiman, who studies Islamic jurisprudence at Al-Azhar University, has published blog posts and articles against honor crimes, the imposition of the niqab (full veil), female genital mutilation, and against the Egyptian government. He became active in the Kifayah movement in August 2005. On October 22, when rioters in Suleiman's neighborhood clashed with police, Suleiman posted an account of the riots, criticizing the rioters and Islam. Days later, his family says, Abd al-Karim was attacked and beaten up by young neighborhood men. Suleiman's brother, Abd al-Hady, believes Alexandria Security was operating on a tip from neighborhood youths.

Repeated attempts by family members and Alexandrian human rights lawyer Mohammed Khaled Al-Tunsi to get more information on Suleiman's case from Alexandria Security have met with no success. On Nov. 6, security agents returned to Suleiman's house and told his family that he was being held in an unspecified detention center for political prisoners. They did not specify on what charges he was being held. On Nov. 8, Al-Tunsi again telephoned contacts in Alexandria Security to inquire about the case. His contacts said they would get back to him, but as of 11 p.m. on Nov. 8, they had not.

Since Security agents visited the Suleiman house a second time, the Suleiman family have been less willing to talk about the case. (We — bloggers Mohammed Morsi and Malek Moustafa, lawyer Al-Tunsi, and I — spent most of last night trying to cajole them into talking. Al-Tunsi had some success with the mother, but she added nothing new to what she had already said. We set an appointment with Abd al-Karim's older brother for 11 p.m., but he never showed up, though his mother said he had left the house at 10:45 p.m.)

Suleiman is either unlawfully detained or has been detained under the Emergency Law. Had Suleiman been lawfully arrested for violating the Penal Code, police from the Muharram Bek precinct would have made the arrest. They would be required to transfer him to the prosecutor within 24 hours. The prosecutor would then interrogate him and request a court date.

Alexandria Security now has two options: They can either detain Suleiman under the provisions of the Emergency Law that allow detention without charge of individuals deemed to be a threat to public order, or they can charge him with defaming religion or
exciting sectarian strife under the terms of Article 98F of the Penal Code (Law no. 29 of 1982 allows for sentences of between six months and five years or fines of between LE500 and LE1000 for “exploiting and using religion in advocating and propagating by talk or in
writing, or by any other method, extremist thoughts with the aim of instigating sedition and division or holding in contempt or disdain any of the ‘heavenly religions’ [i.e. Islam, Christianity, or Judaism] or the sects belonging thereto, or prejudicing national unity or social peace”). Suleiman's defenders grant that his October 22 post held Islam in contempt and, given the background of sectarian strife in Alexandria, could be read as “prejudicing national unity and social strife.”

The latter option would play better in Egypt, where the Emergency Law is unpopular and Islam is popular, but would risk turning him into a cause celebre abroad, particularly among religious conservatives in the United States. Detaining Abd al-Karim under the terms of the Emergency Law carries its own risks: In his campaign for reelection this summer, President Hosni Mubarak promised to suspend the Emergency Law in favor of a counterterrorism law and to pass legislation reinforcing citizens’ right to a fair and speedy trail. Invoking the Emergency Law, particularly in such a high-profile case so soon after the election, would give lie to these promises of reform and would also surely raise eyebrows abroad.

Nowhere did Suleiman call for violence against Muslims. Nor did any such violence follow his post. There is little to suggest that his blog was widely read in Muharram Bek, a working-class neighborhood where economic constraints make Internet use rare. Suleiman himself does not own a computer and maintained his blog from a local Internet cafe. Suleiman was not responsible for the violence in his neighborhood, nor will his detention solve the problems that led to it.

The question of the legality of Suleiman's detention aside, Egyptian officials conducting a cost-benefit analysis of Suleiman's continued detention must conclude that it's not worth it. His detention has already attracted significant attention from local and international
human rights groups and media. Particularly on the eve of the World Summit on the Information Society, where Egypt has the opportunity to present itself as a regional leader in attempts to foster an information society, Suleiman's case has the potential to cause more trouble for the government than it's worth.


Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.