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Arab Bloggers: Living in a Virtual World Behind Prison Bars! - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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An Egyptian court sentenced Blogger Abdul Karim Nabil Sulaiman, also known as Karim Amer, to a four year prison term. Three years for blasphemy and another for slandering the President.

This unprecedented sentence against the young Blogger who criticized both Egypt’s religious educational institutions (of promoting extremism), and the ruling authorities in Egypt is probably a culmination of the numerous confrontation between Bloggers and the ruling and traditional institutions in our Arab world, which in the past has resulted in arrest, imprisonment, torture and sometimes death.

The last few months has seen a rise in the pursuit, arrest, and detention of Bloggers, as in the case of Amir, but that was preceded by a number of criticisms, from the conservative and hard-line establishment regarding the role of the Internet and Internet users in the Arab world, which boils down to the oversimplification that the Internet is time-wasting medium and a podium for debauchery.

To these accusations I add another, namely that the Internet has become a new weapon in the hands of hardliners, and that is a reality.

Today, as the number of Arab Bloggers increases, along with their causes and boldness, sensitivity and doubt over their role and influence have intensified.

Bloggers contributed to rising questions, issues and ideas that were not addressed as explicitly or as publicly in cyberspace as the case is now. Until very recently, Islamist-oriented groups took the lead in their presence and usage of the World Wide Web.

It would not be an exaggeration to praise today’s Bloggers’ active role in leading bold discussions concerning issues in politics, culture, society as well individual relations with their families and governments.

In Egypt alone, Bloggers exposed the torture that people were being subjected to while in police custody, and on more then one occasion Bloggers have played an active role in monitoring the course of political action and expression in the country.

It is a matter worthy of consideration.

When issues of public opinion are dealt with in our region, the Arab public consciousness is often classified as collective one that suppresses individuals and is the product of inherited rather than created convictions.

However, with this new breed of Web Bloggers, we may see the creation of a new reality.

It is true that Karim Amir and others throughout the Arab world are either behind bars or are under threat of being so, but the vast space for expression allowed by the Internet is difficult to regulate and control with prison cells.

Karim’s Blog is still available for those who want to read it, and the level of solidarity towards him and other Bloggers is on the rise, which is apparent with the number of online campaigns and petitions calling for his release.

In this information age, it is hard keeping opinions behind iron bars.