Cable sobre la libertad de expresión en Egipto

ID:44616
Date:2005-11-07 14:59:00
Origin:05CAIRO8498
Source:Embassy Cairo
Classification:CONFIDENTIAL
Dunno:05CAIRO8139
Destination:This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.


C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 CAIRO 008498

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR NEA/ELA, DRL

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/07/2015
TAGS: PGOV, PHUM, SOCI, KISL, KMDR, EG, Democracy, Freedom
SUBJECT: FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AT ISSUE IN EGYPT

REF: CAIRO 8139

Classified by ECPO Minister Counselor Michael H. Corbin for
reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

-------
Summary
-------

1. (C) Egypt has witnessed two recent cases related to
protection and expansion of freedom of speech. In the first
case, State Security in Alexandria has arrested and detained
a young blogger, Abdul Karim Nabil Soliman, apparently
because his recent blog entries have carried strongly-worded
attacks on Islam. While few in the Egyptian blogosphere have
chosen to defend the substance of Abdul Karim's writings, and
some analysts argue that Abdul Karim is engaging in
hate-speech, many bloggers have argued that his detention is
nevertheless a blow to freedom of speech in Egypt. In the
second case, the Islamic Research Council of Al-Azhar has
banned the import by the American University in Cairo Press
of a new study by a Georgetown scholar of the origins and
evolution of Wahhabi Islam, on the grounds that it is
offensive to Islam. AUC is seeking to have the ban undone.
End summary.

--------
The Blog
--------

2. (C) As has been widely reported on blogs covering
Egyptian current affairs, and also by the wire services, on
October 26, Egyptian security personnel arrested and detained
a 21 year old Alexandrian, Abdul Karim Nabil Soliman, a law
student at the Damanhour branch of Al-Azhar University. The
blog entries in question, in Arabic, can be found at
www.karam903.blogspot.com and www.copts-united.com. His blog
posts are notable for their strong criticism of the GOE and
President Mubarak, but also for their scathing condemnation
of the Muslim demonstrators who rioted in Alexandria on
October 21-22 in protest of the St. George's Church play, "I
Once Was Blind, But Now I Can See" (reftel). Among other
charges, Abdul Karim said that the protestors represented
"the true ugly face" of Islam, and that Al-Azhar University
is a "foul" institution that is the moral equivalent of
Al-Qaida.

3. (C) Egypt's leading bloggers (including Baheyya,
MissMabrouk, and Sandmonkey) have all strongly condemned the
arrest and detention of Abdul Karim, while also distancing
themselves from the content of his writings. (For more
information on Egypt's vibrant blogging community, see
www.cairomagazine.com, "Speaking Out" in issue 26, October 6,
2005.) Hossam Baghat (protect) of the Egyptian Initiative
for Personal Rights, an outspoken and reliable advocate of
privacy rights, told poloff on November 6 that in his view,
Abdul Karim's remarks cross the line into "blasphemy/contempt
of religion," (Arabic: "izderaa al-adyan") and make it
likely that he will stand trial before a criminal court.
Baghat opined that Abdul Karim's writings verge on
hate-speech. Various other analysts of Abdul Karim's
writings including bloggers and Embassy Cairo LES staff have
confirmed that Abdul Karim's writings do indeed appear to
meet the GOE standard for blasphemy/contempt of religions.
(Note: Under Egyptian law, blasphemy/contempt of religions
is a vague standard that has been used to prosecute advocates
of heterodox religions, including some Sufi Muslims, and
homosexuals. End note.)

4. (C) In addition to Abdul Karim's own blog, his posts are
also carried by www.copts-united.com, leading to local
speculation that he may have been a convert to Christianity.
Post has not been able to confirm this, nor have we been able
to confirm speculation that he may have been planning to
travel to the Washington to attend the planned conference on
November 16-19 organized by Switzerland-based Coptic activist
Adly Abadeer to protest alleged discrimnation and persecution
of Egypt's Copts.

--------
The Book
--------

5. (C) According to AUC Provost Tim Sullivan and AUC Press
Director Mark Linz, AUC Press had sought to import 1000
copies of "Wahhabi Islam: From Revival and Reform to Global
Jihad," by Natana De Long-Bas of Georgetown's Center for
Muslim-Christian Understanding. AUC had an agreement with
Oxford University Press and IB Tauris to handle publishing
and distribution in Egypt. On October 8, AUC learned from
the GOE that the book would be impounded at Port Said because
it contained "information not in accordance with the
principles of Islam."

6. (C) Censorship of this sort in Egypt originates with the
Islamic Research Center of Al-Azhar, which reviewed the book
earlier this year and recommended to Al-Azhar that it be
banned. According to the pro-Government newspaper
"Al-Gomhouriya," which broke the story on October 27,
Al-Azhar supported the ban, which the GOE has enforced, on
the grounds that "the book was full of mistakes and grudges
against Islam and because it cast doubt on the Quran."

7. (SBU) In a media release, AUC Press noted that although
it is aware of the GOE's censorship regulations and respects
the position of Al-Azhar on such issues, it remains committed
to academic freedom. AUC "objects in principle to censorship
of scholarly and academic works and it hopes that this
decision will be reversed at some point in the near future."

8. (C) Comment: Post has not yet seen a copy of the book,
though AUC Press Director Linz shared with us excerpts of the
text. Based on what we have seen and been able to unearth
through reviews and other commentary, the book does not
appear to traffic in the sort of charges and attacks that
Al-Azhar is alleging. We note that one argument that the
book makes that may not appeal to the GOE is that Wahhabi
Islam emerged initially as a reformist trend within the faith
that was later perverted by the hardline influences of
Salafist/Takfiri idealogues, especially the influential
Egyptian thinker Sayid Qutb. End comment.

-------
Comment
-------

9. (C) These two unresolved cases are illustrative of
challenges that the GOE must address if Egypt's nascent
political reforms are to be consolidated and expanded in a
manner that leads to meaningful social reform. Freedom of
expression in Egypt, including freedom of the Internet, has
made significant strides in recent years. There is a
profusion of new newspapers and periodicals, many of which
publish strident, even scurrilous criticisms of the GOE and
President Mubarak. Similarly, the Internet in Egypt--which
is available to anyone with a PC, modem and local phone
service--has witnessed a flowering of critical discussion,
debate, and dialogue about Egypt's politics and society. The
GOE deserves commendation for its general support for freedom
of speech, which is resulting in real progress in public
dialogue and information.

10. "Redlines" clearly remain, however. The GOE has
periodically blocked the Muslim Brotherhood website
(www.ikhwanonline.com), as well as other sites linked with
extremist groups. The Abdul Karim case appears to be the
first instance of a GOE crackdown on a blogger. As such, it
is an unwelcome development. Due to the controversial nature
of Abdul Karim's writings, however, we do not advocate making
Abdul Karim a poster-child for freedom of expression in
Egypt. As the Wahhabi book and the Alexandria blog cases
suggest, Egypt's remaining redlines for freedom of expression
are linked to commentary on Islam that is perceived by the
GOE to be harmful or otherwise disruptive. In the days
ahead, the Embassy will continue to closely track the
developments in these controversial cases. End comment.


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