The Egyptian government came late to discovering the power of the Internet and social networking, but for the last four years, they’ve made it the center of its efforts to muzzle Egyptian civil society.
This week, the activists pushed back and earned an important victory.
Egyptian Bedouin blogger and activist Musaad Suliman Hassan Hussein, was released July 14 after being held in prison without trial for almost three years, accused of inciting protests against the demolition of thousands of homes in the Sinai Peninsula.
The charges were ludicrous, a ruse to attack someone whose views were outside of government control. A prisoner of conscience who often wrote under the pen name of Musaad Abu Fagr, Hussein had been adopted recently by two US Amnesty International groups in Omaha, Neb., and Westbury, N.Y.
Upon his release Abu Fagr thanked Amnesty for its efforts. “Amnesty International’s support is one of the reasons that I was released,” he said. “Your messages gave me a sense of solidarity.”
Amnesty’s joy at his release was tempered by the continuing detention of a growing number of bloggers, social network leaders, writers and other activists, including prisoner of conscience Karim Amer, who is scheduled to be released this year after a convicted based on his writings. Egypt has been known to hold prisoners beyond their release date, and in the case of Abu Fagr, in opposition to legal orders for their release.
However, the release also comes on the heels of other promising news — a rare legal action against Egyptian policemen charged in the beating death of a blogger. That case also brought a public comment from Gamal Mubarak, son and presumed heir to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Many Egyptian activists who have felt the taste of Egyptian jails remember how when Hosni Mubarak came to power, his reign started with the opening of prisons and the release of many political prisoners. The possibility seemed then that a new era of human rights and freedom was ahead.
That possibility has been crushed by the reality of the regime’s desire to bring its own kind of order to every area of civil society. Now if this recent period of sunshine is a sign of a new Mubarak rising to the presidency, activists won’t follow the assumptions of 1981. Musaad Abu Fagr is out of prison, but he and all other activists won’t be free until all prisoners of conscience are released and human rights are protected by the rule of law.