Commentary

Jailing Bloggers Again, Egypt Is On the Wrong Track

The odds for the Egyptian Revolution turning out well in the long term are growing steadily slimmer, amid growing evidence that the Egyptian military -- hitherto viewed as the protector of the Egyptian people -- simply isn't willing to tolerate certain kinds of dissent. And while I'm sure it wouldn't hesitate to oppress any and all forms of criticism, whatever the forum, it speaks volumes that one of the first prominent targets is a blogger.

On Monday, Maikel Nabil, age 26, was sentenced to three years in prison by a military tribunal for criticizing the military. Nabil had posted a number of uncomplimentary sentiments about the Egyptian military on his blog, but the one which seemed to bother them the most accused soldiers and officers of conducting "virginity tests" of unmarried female prisoners -- and, I can only imagine, mistreating any who "fail" the test (they were also torturing them, including administering electric shocks).

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This is obviously disturbing for a number of reasons. Why does the military, which is supposed to be a secular institution, care whether women are virgins or not?  Perhaps even more disturbing is the ease with which the military has squashed dissent: after seeing what happened to Mubarak, the generals appear determined not to allow blogs and other forms of social media to get the better of them. It's especially ironic considering that one of the first martyrs of the Egyptian Revolution was Khaled Said, a young man who was beaten to death by security police in June 2010 after posting evidence video showing them selling confiscated illegal drugs on YouTube.

There are a couple "canaries in the coalmine" when it comes to societies threatened by authoritarianism and intolerance. These include treatment of religious minorities, women, and political dissidents. In this context, it's discouraging to note that since Mubarak stepped down, Coptic Christians have been repeatedly attacked -- first by mobs for their religious beliefs, then by the military for protesting these attacks. Meanwhile in early March a demonstration by women demanding political equality was also attacked and broken up by mobs of men while the military looked on. And now the military is locking up Egyptians who criticize its heavy-handed policies online, while soldiers are shooting Egyptian protestors in the streets -- all curiously reminiscent of the first go round.

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