Saturday, February 24, 2007

Abu Aardvark: "Free the Egyptian blogger! But..."

I'm quoting the whole post so that I don't get accused of omitting distinctions:
It's nice to see everyone raising their voices to protest the sentencing of Egyptian blogger Abdel Karim Nabeel to four years in prison. International criticism of escalating Egyptian repression can only be good, whether the criticism is official or NGO or public. I add my voice to those who call for a revisiting of the verdict and for his release from prison.
"Revisit the verdict"? Just free the guy.
At the same time, I can't help but note that Nabeel is far from the only political activist in Egyptian jails right now. The Egyptian regime is engaging in an unprecedented crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. Hundreds of its members have been arrested and referred to the notorious state security courts, their businesses closed down and their bank accounts frozen, without even a trace of due process. Some Muslim Brothers are even bloggers, if that's what it takes to get people to care. Because not many people seem to.
In the comments thread which follows, Abu Aardvark adds that people who are merely suspected of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood are being denied due process, tortured, etc.
This selective outrage, where Westerners care about one anti-Islamist blogger but can't be bothered about equally arbitrary and illiberal repression of hundreds of Islamists, only reinforces general skepticism that this isn't really about freedom, human rights, or democracy. It's just like the American focus on the release of jailed liberal politician Ayman Nour as a litmus test for the Egyptian regime (one which it continues to fail, by the way, without seeming to suffer the slightest penalty). I can not exaggerate how many times I hear from Arabs and Muslims that America's campaign against Hamas after it won fair elections and its blind eye to Mubarak's campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood proves once and for all the fundamental hypocrisy of its democracy talk.
I see the point about Hamas all the time in the Arab and Muslim Press myself. It's a pretty cheap point. Winning an election does not equal democracy.
I am not criticizing anyone for rallying to Nabeel's or Nour's defense. They should. But they should also see this as part of a comprehensive regime crackdown on Egyptian political opposition, with the attack on the Muslim Brotherhood the leading edge of the regime's anti-democratic backlash. People who claim to care about Egyptian reform, democratization, and human rights should take a slightly wider view of the problem than the travails of one anti-Islamist blogger or one liberal politician.
Abu Aardvark potentially has the point that the jailing of Nabeel is not the only human rights problem in Egypt (Did anyone think that the human rights situation in Egypt was good otherwise?), but the glib hypocrisy charge, as I mention myself in the comments thread, is an unfortunate feature of liberal polemic. Yes, due process is not only for bloggers (and maybe the point about Nabeel is the disturbing nature of the charges--"insulting Islam"), but there is a lot of information out there to digest and every news story stands on its own. And a jailed Middle Eastern blogger deserves his own post (without a "but") at a blog that focuses on the Middle East, such as, say, Abu Aardvark.

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