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Free Kareem: Egyptian Bloggers Speak Out

The sentencing of Egyptian blogger Kareem Nabeel Sulaiman to four years in prison for articles he wrote in his personal blog may have come as a shock to many around the world, but for Egyptian bloggers the lesson is just too close to home for comfort.

Kareem was sentenced by an Alexandria Court to four years in prison – three for blasphemy against Islam and one for insulting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

For blogger Ala'a Abdulfattah, who was himself imprisoned last year for his political activism, it is the one year Kareem was sentenced for insulting the President that struck a raw nerve.

عبد الكريم خد 4 سنين حبس

3 سنين على تهمة ازدراء الأديان و سنة على تهمة اهانة السيد الرئيس

بيقولك مرة واحد قرر يرشح نفسه رئيس الجمهورية، مسكوه بتوع أمن الدولة و قالولوا أنت عبيط ولا ايه، قالهم هو شرط؟

الناس اللي كانت بتشجع محاكمة و حبس عبد الكريم، يا ريت تركزوا شوية على حتة سنة حبس على تهمة اهانة الرئيس دي، يا ريت تاخدوا بالكم كويس من معناها. و تفكروا كويس دي لما تعدي بالساهل كده ممكن تستخدم ثاني ضد مين و ضد كام حد في مصر.

فكروا كويس في عاقبة حبس الكافر الزنديق الكخة بتهمة اهانة الرئيس.

“Abdulkareem has been sentenced to four years behind bars, three years for contempt against religion and one for insulting the president. They say that one day someone decided to run for president. The secret police caught him and asked him whether he was stupid. The man replied: Is that a must? I had just hoped that the people who were rallying for Abdulkareem's trial and imprisonment had focused just a little on this small part which says that he will be spending a year in prison for insulting the president. I hope you will pay attention here with me. I hope that you will think that when a sentence like this is passed without a fuss just like that, against how many other people in Egypt will this excuse be used again. Think again of the consequences of imprisoning the dirty infidel for insulting the president,” he writes.

Another blogger, Freedom for Egyptians, agrees with Abdulfattah's analysis that now that Kareem has been imprisoned, others in Egypt are not immune.

“This morning, I checked the news of Egyptian Blogger Abdel kareem Nabil Soliman Amer and as expected he was sentenced to four years in prison. I did not expect the four years but a prison sentence. There is still the appeal procedure but who knows….
It is really sad! Egypt is setting a dangerous precedent for trying and sentencing internet writers and bloggers when other countries are working on raising the ceiling of freedom of expression.
And the biggest disaster that it is not the issue to agree or disagree with Kareem Amer's blog, but the real disappointment is that many people are supporting jailing Kareem, including his family. They do not know that regardless where do they stand on politics or religion, their turn is coming….
I am not shocked but sad,” she writes.

After reviewing some of the comments made by international organisation and human rights groups, another Egyptian blogger Ibn Al Dunya adds his two cents to the situation.

“It´s also a reminder of how some of the great sons and daughters of Egypt have gone through the same odd experience with al Azhar, albeit with different outcomes, that Kareem has been through for the last 16 months. The likes of Ali Abd al Razeq, Taha Hussein, Naguib Mahfouz, Youssef Chahine, Farag Fouda, Alaa Hamid, NasserHamid Abu Zeid, Louis Awad and Nawal as Saádawi have all been under the scrutiny, and been jugded as not up to par with the high standards of the much acclaimed institution.

For at least four of them, this has had enourmous consequenses , Mahfouz was stabbed 35 years after he wrote Awlad Haratna(Children of Gabalawi), the perpetrator using al Azhars deccision as the reason for commiting the act. Farag Fouda was killed in the street after SheikhMuhamed al Ghazali had declared him an apostate. Nasser Hamed Abu Zeid was stripped of his position at Cairo University, and unvillingly divored from his wife, Iqbal Younis and both of them forced into exile.

And now Abd al Karim Nabil Sulaiman…,” he writes.

Ibn Al Dunya also argues that religions are protected and cannot be tarnished by the writings or thoughts of one person or another.

“What people perceive as a defence for religion or a defence for the image of Egypt, is not a good thing, it´s a sign of weakness, the religions(Islam or Christianity alike) need not be protected by the people. Religion in itself is larger than anyone of us combined and both of the two religions has outlived worse times than this. It´s us that need´s religions not the other way around, and Islam is not threatened as a religion or civilization by al Qaida, Denmark, Salman Rushdie the Pope or any of the abovementioned authors, and certainly not by a single blogger like Kareem, just as Christianity is not threatened by the writings of Muhammad Emara or the pictures of the monk, etc,” he writes.

Meanwhile, blogger Yasmeen Amin tells us exactly what Kareem has written and what has landed him in prison.

“The last entry on his unfortunate blog dates back to October 28, 2006 where he mentions that he received a summons to appear at the police station for an investigation. The charges against him, he writes, are the ghost of Al Azhar haunting him, despite him receiving his dismissal paper from Al Azhar university already. He mentions other luminaries and intellectuals that were touched by Al Azhar’s curse, as he calls it, and who were forced to either abandon their ideas or flee the country or paid with their life, such as Nasr Hamed Abu Zeid, Dr. Ahmed Sobhy Mansour, Nawal El Saadawi or Ahmed El Shahawy and the late Farag Fouda. He writes that this only strengthens his courage and resolve.
Since that last entry he has been arrested and detained and has no doubt gone through hell. We have all seen enough videos on YouTube of what goes on in Egyptian Police Stations to know that his detention there was probably a nightmare – to say the least. Visits from his family and lawyers were forbidden.
The charges against Karim were those of insulting Islam, harming the peace and insulting President Hosni Mubarak,” she writes.

Amin says Kareem wrote about love and the use of religion to suppress women in all spheres of life. Kareem also “objects to not educating girls, of not allowing them to work in certain professions and fields. He condemns female circumcision and genital mutilation as yet another form of repression. He criticises marrying off girls at an early age and is very passionate about discontinuing domestic violence. All his criticism has been dealt with before by Al Azhar and the Grand Mufti.”

“I went through the entire blog. It took me a couple of days, but I seriously read each and every blog entry. I had to find out why he will be robbed of four years of his life. Why he was denied the right to complete his education. Why he was dismissed from University. Why he was silenced and used as an example to perhaps frighten other bloggers into silence,” she explains.

Amin does a marvelous job summing up Kareem's posts, giving us a dateline of all that the jailed blogger has written about. In conclusion, she says:

Amazingly, Chapter Three of the Egyptian Constitution which deals with Public Freedoms, Rights and Duties says in Article 47: “Freedom of opinion shall be guaranteed. Every individual shall have the right to express his opinion and to publicise it verbally, in writing, by photography or by other means of expression within the limits of the law. Self criticism and constructive criticism shall guarantee the safety of the national structure. “

This is exactly what Karim has done. He exercised his freedom of opinion. He took his right of expressing his opinion seriously and believed enough in it to write it on the internet in a publicly accessible blog. In my opinion Karim lived up to both his own true self and principles as well as his religion. In his profile Karim wrote that he was looking forward to helping humanity against all forms of discriminations. The Qur’an implores believers to speak up against injustice, which is precisely what Karim has done.

Once again a religious institution is confusing itself with God: instead of seeing that they are part of the problem, they interpret any criticism of the institution as criticism of Allah, whereas Karim only did what Allah has told every Muslim to do: [4:135]: “O you who believe! be maintainers of justice, bearers of witness of Allah's sake, though it may be against your own selves or (your) parents or near relatives; if he be rich or poor, Allah is nearer to them both in compassion; therefore do not follow (your) low desires, lest you deviate; and if you swerve or turn aside, then surely Allah is aware of what you do.”

14 comments

  • […] Egypt has put a blogger, Kareem Nabeel Sulaiman, into jail for talking against Islam. This is ridiculous and condemnable. It is time for bloggers from all the countries to stop religious fanatics (whether it is Islam, Christianity of Hinduism) from suppressing free speech. Let us condemn the arrest and subsequent sentencing of Kareem for speaking against Islam and Hosni Mubarak. It is shameful and disgusting. Read more about it at Global Voices. […]

  • BD

    Yasmin Amin is a woman’s name, you might want to correct it. But besides that niggle, I agree totally with her conclusion. What’s the point of having those high faluting words in the constitution and pissing on it every time somebody says something wrong? Fie on them and I am proud of Kareem!

  • Yes. My fault. Of course, Yasmeen is a women’s name. What was I thinking of? Thanks BD and sorry again for any inconvenience.

  • Dear Amira,

    My name is Cecilia Jamasmie, Associate Editor for Orato.com, a citizen journalism news Web site based in Vancouver, Canada that aims put a human face on the news by showcasing vivid, first-person stories from individuals involved in current events. Whether it is politics, sports, entertainment, science, love or war, we aim to capture news in its rawest form and be a celebration of every person’s right to be heard in their own words.

    We’d like to help Egyptian bloggers to put the word out there and we were wondering if you or any other Egyptian blogger you know would like to write a story about the imprisonment of Kareem.

    Thanks in advance,

    Cecilia Jamasmie
    Orato.com
    “First Person True Stories From Real People”

    Contact me: assistanteditor [AT] orato [DOT] com

  • […] But when he present wrong facts about India without any proof, any Indian can go angry over such countryman. He should be thankful to be in India and not some place where Kareem belonged to. If he still wants to maintain his statement about the percentage mentioned by him, I would like him to visit other states of India specially the North part of India where he can find each and every Indian knowing/speaking/reading their national language – Hindi. […]

  • […] Majuzi, mwanablogu Kareem Sulaiman wa Misri alihukumiwa kifungo cha miaka minne jela kutokana na kuandika mawazo yake kwenye blogu yake. Bonyeza hapa uone blogu yake. Pia unaweza kufuatilia habari zake kwenye tovuti ya kampeni ya “Free Kareem.” Hii sio mara ya kwanza kwa wanablogu nchini Misri kupata misukosuko toka serikalini. Soma hapa yaliyotokea mwaka jana. Bonyeza hapa usome zaidi kuhusu kisa cha Kareem toka Global Voices Online. […]

  • Garf

    Firstly, the freedom of speech or the freedom generally, has a very well-known rule. You’re free to do or say whatever you want to, as long as you don’t hurt anyone. He’s free not to believe in Islam, he’s free to believe in any religion or no religion at all. But, he has no right to attack Islam or prophet Mohamed.
    Let me tell you something, may be a lot of people wouldn’t know, one of the things explicitly mentioned in quran, is that prophet mohamed,and accordingly all the muslims, should never impose Islam on a non-muslim. So, if he wishes to be a non-muslim, he’s totally free. But he’s not free to attack muslims or Islam.

  • We have translated and published this article in the Norwegian web magazine Vox Publica, in accordance with the CC license. The magazine is published at the University of Bergen and concentrates on free speech and democracy issues.

  • […] Letters in Prison: Wa7damasrya is calling upon everyone to show solidarity with Egyptian blogger Karim Amer who is sentenced to four years in prison for allegedly insulting Islam and defaming the president […]

  • […] Briefe ins Gefängnis: Wa7damasrya ruft alle dazu auf, Solidarität mit dem ägyptischen Blogger Karim Amer zu zeigen, der zu vier Jahren Haft verurteilt wurde, weil er angeblich den Islam beleidigt und den […]

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