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Arabisc: Bloggers Rally to Kareem's Support

New York Rally to free Kareem - Photo courtesy of Free Kareem

Egyptian blogger Kareem Sulaiman was today (Thursday) sentenced to four years in prison for defaming Islam and Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak on his personal blog.

Despite a support site, petitions and demonstrations in Bahrain, London,
Stockholm, Paris, Rome, New York (twice) and Washington DC calling for his release, an Alexandria court found him guilty and sentenced him to four years in prison.

In his own words on his blog, 22-year-old Kareem describes himself and sums up his goals as follows:

I am down to earth Law student; I look forward to help humanity against all form of discriminations. I am currently studying Law in Al Azhar University. I am looking forward to open up my own human rights activists Law firm, which will include other lawyers who share the same views. Our main goal is to defend the rights of Muslim and Arabic women against all form of discrimination and to stop violent crimes committed on a daily basis in these countries.

Dreams and aspirations which will have to be put on hold for the time being I suppose.

When Kareem was first detained in early November for this writings, many bloggers in the Middle East tried to distance themselves from the case because they did they did not want to be associated with blasphemy against Islam. Today, while some condemn the sentence as an attack on freedom of expression, others believe the blogger got what he deserved for swimming against the tide.

Even his very own family disowned him a few days before his trial.

“His father, a retired mathematics teacher, has demanded applying the Sharia [Islamic law] ruling on him by giving him three days to repent, followed by having him killed if he does not announce his repentance.

The father of the Al-Azhar student, who is accused of contempt of the Islamic religion, harming the reputation of Egypt, and inciting to disrupt the peace and to overthrow the regime, has decided to rescind from boycotting his trial hearing sessions. [He has decided] to attend the court verdict session with his four brothers, who completely memorized the Holy Quran, to announce disowning the accused Abdul Kareem inside the court room, in order to reduce the embarrassment and pressure that civil rights organizations are applying on the court panel.”

So how did bloggers react to his sentence?

ian blogger Sharaqwi calls for a campaign to release Kareem and promote freedom of expression in his country.

الحكم مقلق وضد حماية حق الرأى والتعبير وممكن يبقى بداية لسجن النشطاء بتهمة أهانة الرئيس..
يسقط يسقط حسنى مبارك………
مش عاوزينة مش عاوزينه.. مهما يقولوا اننا بنهينه
مطلوب حملة تضامن مع كريم والدفاع عنه وعن حرية الرأى والتعبير،
وهنسيبنا من أى دعاوى اننا بنتضامن مع مدون كافر..
احنا بنتضامن مع مصرى منتهكة حقوقه.
“The sentence is alarming and against freedom of expression. This could also be the beginning of imprisoning activists for insulting the president. Down Down Hosni Mubarak.. We don't want him.. we don't want him.. however much they say we insult him..What is required now is a campaign to support Kareem and defend both him and freedom of speech. And let's not argue about whether we are supporting an atheist blogger. We are supporting an Egyptian who is being denied his rights,” he explains.

Big Pharaoh
, meanwhile, took a break from his hiatus, to comment on the news as follows:

I just can't go without reporting this. Abdel Kareem was sentenced to 4 years in prison. Abdel Kareem was sent to jail because he merely stated his opinion on the country's regime and religion.
What really upsets me is the fact that Abdel Kareem enjoys very little sympathy in the Egyptian street because of what he said about Islam and religion in general. Some are calling for his execution.
Abdel Kareem will enjoy sympathy in the Egyptian street once Islam gets reformed. Once cussing Mohamed, Allah, whatever does not send you to prison or the gallows. If Abdel Kareem was living 500 years ago in Europe and he would have wrote the same thing about Christianity, he would have been burned at stake. Luckily Christianity got reformed, Christians in Europe understood that God would not be a very happy person if they imprisoned or killed someone who wrote/said something they considered offensive to the Christian faith. This is the reason why Dan Brown and Tom Hanks are still alive today.
One day Islam will reform and the future Abdel Kareems will not fear prison and execution anymore. In the meantime, we're stuck with stupidity and cruelty.

Egyptian Zabinzo sums up his reaction to the sentence in one word: sickening!

n blogger and a supporter of Kareem Dr Tom Palmer insists that the sentence will not go unchallenged.

“This will not go unchallenged. His case is the case of every blogger, every dissident, every person who aspires to life as a free citizen. My sincere thanks and recognition to all who have helped the cause of free speech and the case of Abdelkareem. Please be ready to act again, respectfully and with dignity, in the hope that this grave miscarriage of justice will be corrected, perhaps in a way that will allow the Egyptian authorities to do the right thing and save face,” he writes.

Another American blogger Doug Mataconis wonders what his government's reaction to the sentence would be.

Keep in mind. An American ally and supposed example of moderate Islam. And what has the Bush Administration had to say about this travesty ? So far, nothing:

The Bush administration has not commented on Nabil’s trial, despite its past criticism of the arrests of Egyptian rights activists.

We’re waiting Mr. President.

Also from the US, Lee Garnett is worried about Kareem's condition in prison.

It probably goes without saying, but four years in an Egyptian prison can often mean a death sentence. Picture your worst apprehensions about detention in a Western correctional facility and multiply them by one hundred. The experience for political prisoners such as Nabil, is certain to be particularly harrowing.
It says a great deal about conditions in their prisons, that Egypt only banned flogging for disciplinary infractions in 2001. Medical care is virtually nonexistent, malnutrition common, torture is widespread and those are the positives. For Nabil’s real danger will come from the inmates, a large share of which will be political prisoners of a different type: some of the most fanatical Islamic extremists in the world.

i blogger Mahmood Al Yousif, who is himself facing a defamation case in a Bahraini court, was also quick to the defence of Kareem, describing today as a sad day for freedom of expression.

“And if Egypt leads, the Arab world are supposed to follow, right? So the arrest, detention and jailing of people for simply writing their thoughts is forging ahead unchecked in the Middle East… and there doesn’t seem to be any will whatsoever for anyone to stop it, even for a moment, to think of what that is going to do for this and future generations.
Yet another reason for one to maintain their anonymity at all times.
Big brother is not just watching, but is waiting to pounce at the slightest chance to silence critics in the full sight of the world and even they are not interested in doing anything about the situation,” writes a concerned Al Yousif.

Frederik Richter, writing for The Arabist, echoes similar sentiments:

This is a strong message to Egypt’s bloggosphere.
In a first trial against a blogger, Kareem has been sentenced to four years in jail for insulting Islamic institutions and the President.
A very sad day for freedom of expression in Egypt.

Jose Castillo
, writing from the US, says Kareem was punished for something bloggers around the world take for granted.

“A 22-year-old Egyptian blogger, Abdel Kareem Nabil, has been sentenced to 4 years in prison for criticizing Islam, President Hosni Mubarak, and the university Al-Azhar. His posts were centered around the restriction of free speech – interesting irony. Most of us take it for granted that we can say what we want on our blogs and not have an oppressive government punish us for our thoughts. I wonder if there will be enough public outcry around the world to release this guy,” he notes.

Needless to say, the sentence did not please Reporters Without Borders, who stated:

Reporters Without Borders strongly condemned the four-year prison sentence imposed today by a court in Alexandria on Abdel Kareem Nabil Suleiman for “inciting hatred of Islam” and insulting President Hosni Mubarak in his blog, for which he used the pseudonym of “Kareem Amer.”
“This sentence is a disgrace,” the press freedom organisation said. “Almost three years ago to the day, President Mubarak promised to abolish prison sentences for press offences. Suleiman’s conviction and sentence is a message of intimidation to the rest of the Egyptian blogosphere, which had emerged in recent years as an effective bulwark against the regime’s authoritarian excesses.”
Reporters Without Borders continued: “As a result of this conviction, which clearly confirms Egypt’s inclusion in our list of Internet enemies, we call on the United Nations to reject Egypt’s request to host the Internet Governance Forum in 2009. After letting Tunisia, another violator of online freedom, host the World Summit on the Information Society, such a choice would completely discredit the UN process for debating the future of the Internet.”


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