Noha Atef
Noha Atef

Blogging in Egypt: Virtual network, virtual oppression

I have been blogging in various platforms since 2006, focusing on human rights conditions and police abuses in Egypt. During this time, the Egyptian regime was widely described as one of the most “liberal-moderate” and sometimes “semi-democratic” regimes in the region, but meanwhile, hundreds of young people were hijacked, jailed, fined, and intimidated. Egypt has been named by CPJ as one of the worst countries to be a blogger, and now resides on its list out today of “10 Tools of Online Oppressors.”

The Egyptian regime managed to handle the punishment of the digital opposition without staining its “liberal” image. It kept quiet its oppression of online freedom, as it did with me for example: I received threats of arrest and false accusations of prostitution. My immediate and extended family got in trouble too because of what the police called “childish and reckless things” I wrote online–reports on torture committed in Egypt since 2000 and a database I developed of police abuses across the country. Plus, I was sacked from two jobs, in 2007 and 2010, and my family was told by police these were just “pinches on the ear” for me!

Actually, no legal case was filed against me and I have no proof of receiving any threats, as everything happened informally. It was a virtual oppression. However, many other people who used cyberspace to publish their views or mobilize people were physically assaulted. In one year only (2008), dozens of Egyptian bloggers were arrested. (I have been writing about bloggers who were in trouble with the authorities because of their online writing at Global Voices.)

When it came to the Internet, any critique was considered defamation, and defamation was not tolerated by the police, who would even stand against judicial orders to keep a blogger in jail. I know of one blogger who was kept in detention for two years despite being given more than eight release orders. In prison, bloggers were ill-treated; Karim Amer, the first Egyptian who was arrested for blogging, was beaten up more than once while serving his sentence.

I should mention that bloggers and activists were not the only police targets, their laptops were too. In Philip Rizk‘s case–and in many others–police raided his house and illegally confiscated his hardware.