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Egypt: On Maikel Nabil, first blogger to be jailed since January 25

Maikel Nabil , the first Egyptian blogger to be jailed since the January 25 revolution started, has been on a hunger strike since Monday, August 22. On August 30, Maikel stopped taking any liquids, including water. He was taken to a hospital two days later after falling into a coma.

He has agreed to drink some water but still refuses to eat any food. Maikel, who has a heart condition, was tried before a military court 12 days after being arrested from his home on March 28, 2011, and charged with “insulting the military & spreading false reports aiming to disturb public security.” He was sentenced to three years in prison.

Maikel is serving three years in jail for a blog he wrote in March entitled “The army and the people are not one hand,” in which he listed what he thought were alleged wrongdoings by the army to the people of Egypt. His blog is linked to other newspaper pieces and videos supporting his claims. Maikel has a history of online activism as well as of controversial and at times unpopular opinions. His website www.maikelnabil.com has featured an online campaign he started in 2009 against compulsory drafting by the army in Egypt. As someone who defines himself as “pro-Israel” and “atheist,” his website also features several pieces that do not resonate well with the mostly religiously conservative, anti-Israeli atrocities Egyptian people. His unpopular opinions have not granted him that many supporters among Egyptians.

I personally do not agree with many of Maikel’s blog entries or arguments, but as someone who has always been a staunch supporter of freedom of thought and expression, I will defend to the death his right to say them. In my book “Policing the Internet in the Arab World” (the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research, 2009), I argued that even though Egypt does not block any websites (Maikel’s blog in its entirety, including the entry he was tried for is still online), security forces have always gone after bloggers and online activists in an attempt to harass and intimidate them and others. That was during pre-January 25 Egypt. We had hoped by now things would be different. Since Maikel’s arrest, the army has investigated several online activists and journalists, including Hossam el Hamalawy, Reem Magued, Adel Hammouda, Rasha Azab, and Asmaa Mahfouz. These were not arrested. Activist Loai Nagati was detained for a week and later released.

Since February, 11,879 Egyptian civilians have been trialed or investigated by military courts.

A group of activists has since been actively trying to campaign against military trials. The “No To Military Trials for Civilians” group is calling for all civilians to be tried before their normal, civic court. The group also asks that those already in jail by military courts be released and re-tried before a civic court. Recently, the group produced a PSA (in Arabic) featuring several potential Presidential candidates advocating against military trials for civilians.

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