SOS from an Egyptian blogger

The author's real name is being withheld because Egypt's government has recently jailed Egyptian bloggers whose opinions differ from its policies. His writings can be found at www.sandmonkey.org.

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As I write this, I am watching Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak give his speech at the World Economic Forum, being held in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. The usually pro-US Mubarak has just delivered what can only be described as a fiery anti-US speech, criticizing the American push for democratic reforms in Egypt. He informed the world that he was confident his government was "on the right path" when it comes to democratic reforms, but he cautioned that changes should be gradual to avoid "chaos and setbacks."

This guy gets funnier every single year he stays in power, I swear.

Mr. Mubarak has every right to be angry. During the month of May alone the US State Department has criticized Egypt three times for its treatment of protesters. The Egyptian police have broken up several peaceful demonstrations, held in support of two pro-reform judges who questioned the legitimacy of Egypt's 2005 parliamentary elections. Protesters were brutally beaten, and then thrown in jail for an indefinite period of time for shouting slogans that "defame the government" and "insult the president in public."

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How dare they peacefully protest and exercise their freedom of speech in such an irresponsible way? And how dare Washington criticize Mubarak for his response? As Mubarak would say, this is clearly a security issue, and one that needs to be handled firmly. After all, those protesters are no better than "street thugs," who "terrorize" Egypt's streets and need to be dealt with immediately, as Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif said in a recent press conference.

Peaceful protests = thuggery and terrorism. Got that, Egyptian protesters?

It would be funny if it weren't for the fact that the crackdown on protests happened one week after the Dahab terrorist attack, the sixth terrorist attack of its kind in the past 18 months. And it happened two weeks after three churches were attacked simultaneously in Alexandria, marking the fifth sectarian attack in Egypt in six months. The Egyptian police - unable to stop any of that - decided to do something about all of this by arresting peaceful protesters. Egyptian citizens have the right to die in attacks, but not the right to complain in public about it, it seems. That would be rude!

If arresting peaceful protesters on the street, week after week (653 last month alone), weren't enough, the Egyptian government is looking to end public dissent over the Internet. So far, six bloggers have been arrested. One of them is Alaa Abdel-Fatah, one of Egypt's most prominent bloggers. Mr. Abdel-Fatah runs an aggregator service for Egyptian blogs, using the space to help organize protests. He has been a thorn in the side of the Egyptian government for some time, which finally decided to handpick Abdel-Fatah and fellow bloggers out of a recent street protest and detain them. They have been in jail for three weeks now in a place that makes Abu Ghraib look like the Four Seasons.

Another blogger, Mohamed el-Sharqawi, was released, then rearrested two days later, just last Thursday. He was beaten up and says he was raped by the police before being thrown in jail again. There is still no word on what he is charged with, or how long he will be detained, since the emergency laws allow his indefinite incarceration without charges.

Needless to say, their detention is scaring other opposition bloggers - present company included - into thinking that they may be next. My blog has been receiving more and more hits from Egyptian government Internet provider addresses, but I tell myself I am just being paranoid. So what if the ministry of information visits me about 30 times a day? They must be fans!

This isn't the first time the Egyptian government has gone after bloggers. Last November, they arrested blogger Abdel Karim Amer in his Alexandria neighborhood after he used his blog to detail attacks carried out by Muslims against Christians. He was imprisoned for two weeks, until a campaign that the Egyptian blogosphere started - and blogs around the world joined - resulted in his release.

The Egyptian government is also following in the footsteps of China and Iran in passing legislation that will allow it to censor Web content and arrest people who post content deemed "dangerous to the fabric of our society," or who "jeopardize public stability." Our government controls the media and the printing press, beats and arrests protesters, and has now got its eye on the only place free speech is exercised in Egypt - the Internet.

For all of the aforementioned reasons, I call upon you to boycott Egypt financially.

I am not just asking the US State Department to suspend the $3 billion in annual aid sent to the Egyptian government. I am asking every person who reads this to not visit Egypt, not buy Egyptian products, and not invest in companies that invest in Egypt. I am asking you to completely boycott Egypt and everything Egyptian until this government stops silencing dissent.

Don't get me wrong. I love my country. But the current regime has to be stopped, and the only way that's going to happen is if it is no longer supported.

Currently, there are 20,000 political prisoners in Egypt, held for years without charges, or evidence, and subjected to daily torture. We have increasing unemployment, illiteracy, and poverty rates. Judges who report election fraud get suspended and beaten on the street. Corruption and looting run rampant on every level of the government. The only reason the regime has survived for 25 years and counting is because of foreign aid and tourist dollars. You help it survive.

As an Egyptian-born citizen who lives in Egypt, I ask you to stop "helping," please.

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