The Tar Pit

Monday, November 07, 2005

Jailing of Egyptian blogger: impact on Islamic reform

From the Blogger profile of Abdolkarim Nabil Seliman:

I am down to earth Law student; I look forward to help humanity against all form of discriminations. I am currently studying Law in Al Azhar University. I am looking forward to open up my own human rights activists Law firm, which will include other lawyers who share the same views. Our main goal is to defend the rights of Muslim and Arabic women against all form of discrimination and to stop violent crimes committed on a daily basis in these countries.

Can't imagine why the Egyptian government would want to suppress a human rights law firm before it takes root in Egypt. Not a clue. It's a complete mystery, an utter bafflement.

Manalaa directs us to more of Seliman's writings at Civic Dialogue and what looks like another Kareem Amer (a pseudonym) blog. Seliman had another website here. It's a little difficult to sort through some of this without being able read Arabic, and I haven't found any English translations of Seliman's writings thus far.

There is an Arabic post by Seliman here about recent Muslim violence and murder against Egypt's Christian Copts, about which Freedom for Egyptians writes:

I have read Abdolkarim's last blog on the Alexandria sectarian violence. Kareem has been a witness to this violence. He wrote his testimony on those black days in Egypt. Detaining him is considered an intimidation or assault on a witness.

In his article, he called for the rejection of hatred in Islam to non-Muslims, hinting to the position of the Egyptian Copts. He witnessed himself in Moharm Bik district in his home city of Alexandria. He gave in his blog an example how some Islamist thugs burned a liquor store owned by an Egyptian Copt while at the same time allowing a Muslim man to sell alcohol.

The Egyptian government made continuous attempts to suppress any media coverage or voices which highlight the tension between Egyptian Muslims and Copts. Abdolkarim's blog refers to how the majority of Muslims regards Copts as second rate citizens and therefore deprive them of influential positions. That was said in other places and we all know about it. Many believe that Copts are infidels and followers of the US. Part of the hatred to the US is projected on the fact that the US protects Copts. That's how some tend to think and that was reflected in the comments I read on the blogs written about Abdolkarim.

The Seliman case is a study in the possibilities for Islamic Reformation. Rosetta Stone writes in the November 6 post "Why bloggers should support Karim's release" (sorry, the site doesn't seem to have permalinks):

Reagarding the anger of some of the fellow Muslim bloggers, faith is a personal thing and thus part of our identity, therefore insulting someone religion is like directly insulting him. Bottom-line, this guy disrespects Muslims by generalizing them in this way. He cussed Islam and the Prophet and he also described us as "cattle". Thus Muslims have every right to feel angry and despised. But there are civilized ways to turn our anger into, like... through refuting his posts or by civil suits and for the religious ones by privately praying for either his "salvation" or his burning in hell. BUT no one deserves what happened to this guy, although we are not sure what really happened to him but anything that involves amn el-dawla is far away from good. And you can trust me on that, judging from my own personal experience with these thugs at a very young age. They are merciless even with kids.

So, leaving our emotions behind, let me sum up to you why we should support Karim in his ordeal, in the following points:-

* Freedom of Speech right is non-compromiseable... it's all or nothing but all.
* Only civic ways should be used to hold him liable to his words, if it was categorized as a hate speech.
* Also if he really pissed you off by his words, you have the choice to tell him that through comments and emails or simply click the X in the top right corner of your browser like I did!
* Nation Security methods of arresting and interrogations are barbaric. Karim next 15 days (the interrogation detention period which is renewable) are going to be intolerable to any human.
* This angry guy is only 21 years old.
* Don't create an anti-Islamic martyr out of him, just like our stupid government did. The Islamophobes just love this kind of stuff and they are just waiting for such an opportunity.

Before anyone think this blogger wants to whitewash anti-Coptic violence, read this from the "Stupid Muslim Men" post of October 20, 2005, about the same events that Seliman was jailed for criticizing:

For many years the rights of Egyptian Christians are being violated constantly by our government and its thugs. These violations led many Coptic groups to express their views harshly and sometimes it might be interpreted as anti-Islam feelings, but it is not "anti-Islamic" it's more of an angry cry due to years of systematic oppression. The last example of this was a play shown 2 years and published on DVD and it was accredited to the St. Mar Gerges Church in Alexandria as it was claimed by tabloid papers. The brotherhood and other Islamists decided to take the words of these reporters to be true and took about the 3000 angry Muslim mob to siege the church... demanding explanantion, apology, repention etc. These acts lead an unemployed thug to attack a "nun" and a lawyer in front of the Church! (imagine attacking a nun!!!). Yesterday, they wanted to have another siege and it sparked a confrontation with the ruthless riot police which resulted in 2 deaths and 80 injuiries... so WHY??? Even if the play was truly anti-Islamic, they should just forget about it and let them have it as this not a reflection of all Christians!

Rosetta's posts are important, not only for those of us who are skeptical about Islam's prospects for real reform, but especially for those who insist on its inevitability. There is a struggle in Islam that pits good-hearted Muslims against the jihadists and their sympathizers. The violence against the Egyptian Copts and the jailing of Abdolkarim Nabil Seliman for blog posts critical of Muslim thuggery reemphasize the difficulty faced by reformers. We skeptics have a moral duty to give the Islamic reformers the opportunity to prove us wrong. That said, the reformers' advocates among Western politicians, such as President Bush, need to offer something more than "Islam means peace" platitudes if they really believe what they're saying. If Seliman is still imprisoned when Egypt holds its elections this week, his name had better be mentioned when the President calls Hosni Mubarak from the White House to congratulate him on Egypt's democratic progress.

The Egypt Blog asks:

What is wrong with the Egyptian government? They arrest a liberal like Abdel and, on the other hand, the Muslim Brotherhood are free to do what they want. This is a slap on the face to however much freedom there is in this country.

Muslim Brotherhood is an Egyptian jihadist organization. It's most famous member, al Qaeda terror capo Ayman al Zawahiri, served only three years after being convicted for his role in the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981.

In contrast, from The Arabist Network

This arrest no doubt comes in the context of the recent sectarian riots between Copts and Muslims in Alexandria. This blogger is Muslim and a student at Al Azhar. In recent weeks his blog has been devoted to events in Alexandria and has included several rather scathing attacks on those Muslims who had rallied against the controversial play.

State Security likely arrested him as a precautionary move. Someone like Kareem Amer does not fit the mold, and this always makes state security nervous. Amer wasn't arrested because of what he was writing. He was arrested because of who he is. Had he been a Copt railing against Muslim extremism it would never have caught state security's attention. But because he's Muslim and an Azhari, he is more dangerous. Amer was arrested because state security doesn't want to have to deal with the fall out if some radical decides to stab him for his inflammatory writings.

A similar case would be the case of Metwallif Ibrahim Saleh, a bearded Salafi who has been in prison for nearly three years, because of his reformist writings on Islam. Saleh had written that it is okay for Muslim women to marry non-Muslims and that the Koran does not sanction death for Muslims who convert to other religions.

Let's see, three years and counting for reformist writings, or three years for conspiring to assassinate a President who made peace with Israel? Quite a revealing moral equivocation, that.

At the Arabist Network link there is this comment by a former Egyptian state security chief about Saleh:

State security has nothing against moderate, tolerant Islam, explained former head Fouad Allam. "Their logic is that writings like this, about Muslim women marrying non-Muslims, and about changing religions, is very dangerous because of the huge impact of Islamic extremist ideologies," he said. "It could produce a problem and impact the security situation."

So, the Egyptian government considers potential victims to be a greater potential threat than the potential threats. Makes perfect sense.

The Big Pharaoh continues to blog on this story, and Stygius has also posted.