According to a recent report published by the Egyptian Cabinet’s Information and Decision Support Center (IDSC), Egypt has over 162,000 bloggers [mostly between 20-30 year olds], which constitutes 30 percent of Arab bloggers.
The detailed report raises pertinent questions that require further examination. The efforts invested in investigating the numbers of Egyptian bloggers and gathering information about their activities is a testimony of the growing influence of this segment in society in the political and media spheres – not only in Egypt but in the world.
However, despite the importance of the subject, the aforesaid study is not simply an information summary but rather also includes surveillance, albeit indirect, of this phenomenon. What is striking about the report is the fact that it features a multitude of critical views related to the phenomenon of Egyptian bloggers who count among their ranks a large segment of activists, intellectuals, independent politicians and the defenders of freedom of expression. In fact; it is one of the most vibrant phenomena in the Arab world in light of the immense volume of opinions exchanged and the political views communicated – not to mention the disclosure of facts and exposure of documents that reveal the gross violations that Egyptians civilians and prisoners have endured.
Perhaps this is precisely what prompted the publication of this study, for fear that it would activate monitoring and surveillance rather than expand the platform of freedom of expression that the Egyptian blogs create. This is clearly evinced by some of the statements in the report, such as, “The absence of monitoring on the blogs and the absence of moderators [to arbitrate] between bloggers and the public raises political and moral reservations about their content.”
There is no doubt that any means of communication entails the possibility of misuse… This is a matter that is imposed by modernity and its technological advancements.
However, the data included in the report must be regarded as linked to the fact that some people are frequently pursued, such as the 14 Egyptian ‘Facebook activists’ jailed a few weeks ago [for threatening national security] after singing patriotic songs [on the national holiday commemorating Egypt’s 1952]. The Public Prosecutor insisted on detaining them despite the decision issued by the Court of Appeal to release them, which is an alarming matter that raises countless questions and concerns.
The sheer magnitude of the prosecutions, harassments and court orders that some bloggers and activists on the internet have been subjected to in Egypt is cause for apprehension – particularly since it has become an obsession for security agencies.
However, the greatest irony worthy of consideration is that the Public Prosecutor’s decision to detain the 14 young bloggers coincided with the decision to release those who had been arrested in connection with the drowning of Al-Salam 98 ferry, which sank following what was confirmed as gross negligence two years ago [3 February 2006].
This is simply one of the many ironies that frequently unfold in our countries but we are incapable of stopping to ponder them – even if it is for a few moments.
* Published in the London-based ASHARQ AL-AWSAT on August 10, 2008. Diana Mukkaled is a prominent and well respected TV journalist in the Arab world and a veteran war corrependent.