Blogging in Egypt: Virtual network, virtual oppression

By Noha Atef/CPJ Guest Blogger on May 2, 2011 11:30 AM ET

Noha Atef

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.   


As interesting in hindsight this is, it is a little oudated. There has been a revolution since not mentioned here and since then bloggers have been very outspoken and critical without harrassment.

BUT for the blogger Maikel Nabil - who is not mentioned here at all. But on World Press Freedom Day it seems vital to mention that he is the only and first blogger to be arrested after the toppling of the Mubarak regime.

He was arrested by the army in the middle of the night of Mach 28, 2011 because of blogging about atrocities of the army against peaceful protesters at Tahrir square (torture, sexual abuse).

He was sentenced in absentia and behind the backs of his uninformed lawyers in a surprise coup on April 10 to 3 years in prison - for having "offended" the army with his criticism.

Surely such gross violation of freedom of speech and press - both guaranteed in the new Egyptian Constitutional Declaration but not granted - must be made public on a day like this. This is what is currently happening in Egypt. The stories above are correct but truly not current anymore, most are two or more years old. That does not fit with the current violation against bloggers in Egypt that we must be aware of.

Nabil has been thrown into a cell with three very violent criminals threatening to injure him, has no blanket, sleeps on the bare floor and does not get out to see the sunlight. His health is deteriorating as he has blood pressure problems and no medical assistence is given to him.

To demand from the army to release the blogger Maikel Nabil from Egyptian jail a petition has been set up and the world is urgently asked to support it by signing!

Please see here:

Many thanks for mentioning Nabil!

Actually I deliberately mentioned other names, as many people (around the world) think that Nabil is first Egyptian blogger to be sentenced by a military court. I meant to draw an image of the atmosphere before 2011 altogether, not particularly before the revolution.

Probably nest year we will need a report to compare the status of digital freedoms before and After...

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