Web community rallies to free Egyptian blogger
A young activist's case is being used to spotlight the plight of hundreds of detainees
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According to others, such as Hassan Nafae, head of the political science department at Cairo University, the crackdown on demonstrators is a symptom of political malaise. "President Mubarak is getting old, I am not quite sure he's in real command of the whole situation," says Mr. Nafae.Skip to next paragraph
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"There is almost an absence of overall policy, what to do with political reform and so on. [The government's] decisions reflect a situation of fear rather than self-confidence."
Meanwhile, Egyptian officials deny they are curtailing freedoms. At a recent press conference, Gamal Mubarak, heir apparent of President Hosni Mubarak, dismissed the attacks and detentions of demonstrators as "specific incidents" and "skirmishes." He said he had "ample evidence in other areas that prove that we're not turning back, that we're moving forward, with openness, with reform, with political debate."
The situation is "obviously demoralizing," says one young female activist who prefers to remain anonymous because of security concerns. "Every single important leftist is in prison. They're arresting everyone. We've given up on street work."
But with the streets increasingly off limits, Egypt's online activist community is remaining active and has picked up the slack, reaching out to counterparts abroad and organizing an effective awareness campaign around Abdel-Fatah.
"Alaa didn't write that much in the beginning," says Ms. Hassan. She adds that their blog "wasn't very political a year and a half ago," when it was started. "It changed as we changed."
The site freealaa.blogspot.com (created within 24 hours of Abdel-Fatah's arrest) documents all new developments in his case and those of other detained activists.
"It's easier to tell the story of Alaa, and then go back to other detainees," says Amr Gharbeia, a friend of Abdel-Fatah and the author of an award-winning political blog in Arabic. "He's been covered in the media, he's much more connected."
Close to 1,000 people have signed an automated petition form, demanding the Abdel-Fatah's release, which is sent to both Egyptian and American officials.
Like many Arab countries, Egypt is experiencing a steep growth in Internet users and bloggers. "There were 500 blogs six months ago," says Mr. Gharbeia, "there are 1,000 now. The number is doubling every six months."
The Internet has allowed Egyptian activists not only to coordinate local events, but also to reach out to international activist networks when in need.
Gharbeia says local bloggers have coordinated efforts before, but that the campaign for Abdel-Fatah's release is "the first time we do something this big."
"A lot of people write and say: We heard about this and what can we do?" says Hassan. Already, small demonstrations have been planned or carried out in front of Egyptian consulates or embassies in Washington, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, London, and Paris.
Meanwhile, no one knows when Abdel-Fataha and the other activists will be released. According to Egyptian law, their detentions could be renewed indefinitely.
The young blogger concluded his last post describing conversations with other inmates: "I have to explain about the judges and I have to explain why I'm here, why it's worth it, and to be frank I've no idea why. It isn't worth being away from Manal for three days let alone 30 (very well, Egypt), but I can't really say that, can I?"