Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Bloggers in trouble

It seems that this blogging business is for real, and some regimes are starting to take it seriously.

A Bahraini blogger, Ali Abdulemam, and two of his fellow moderators of BahrainOnline.org, Hussain Yousif, and Mohammed Al Mousawi, have been detained by the Bahraini authorities a few days ago. It seems they're being detained for their moderation activities, not their blogging though.

In Iran, blogging is a apparently becoming the state enemy number one. They've detained two bloggers there, Mojtaba Saminejad and Arash Sigarchi.

A few days after I started blogging, a cool Egyptian journalist emailed me asking me about what I think of blogging, and how important it is in reforming the Middle East. I replied saying that I didn't think it was of much importance, and I still don't actually. But apparently, the Arab regimes do not agree with me!

Mohammed, over at Digressing, points out that with regards to the Bahrainis, these are not the first Arabs to be arrested because of online speech. He points out that there have also been others who have been arrested and sometimes sentenced for publishing undesired material through the Internet. Ashraf Ibrahim, and Shohdy Naguib Surur from Egypt. Haitham Keteish, Mohammed Keteish, AbdelRahman ElShogoury, and four others from Syria. Zoheir Yehiawy, along with 20 others in Tunisia.

Of those, the only one I knew of and was following his story at the time (2002), was Shohdy Surur. His story is interesting, in that its different from the typical, "guy/gal get arrested because they're publishing stuff against the regime".

Shohdy was commemorating his late father Naguib Surur, by publishing his poems and plays on the Internet. Shohdy, as far as I know, is no activist against the regime, and he used to work as the website designer and maintainer of AlAhram Weekly state-owned newspaper.

The reason for his arrest was one of his father's poems, Kuss-ummiyyat [really, adult content here]. This poem is really something. You'll find him describing Egypt as the country of whores, and insisting that he is an Egyptian ibn Egyptian who loves Egypt and the Nile. In short, Naguib Surur was a poet, a playwright, actor, and a critic who became very frustrated with the Egyptian state of being, at one point suffering from severe depression leading him to spend sometime in the mental hospital.

Should that remind me of Alaa ElAswany's Neeran Sadeeka's main character whom I've connected with his views about Egypt before, and who ended up in the mental hospital? hmmm. Similar views I would say. Dissapointment, anger, disassociation, ridicule.

The poem abusively (and sexually I guess, if that's the right word) criticises the state of Egypt and Egyptians, but under the presidents' who ruled during Surur's life, Nasser and Sadat, not Mubarak.

It happens that this was one of Naguib's poems that Shohdy was commemorating. Shohdy is in Moscow now (considering that he's half Russian from his mother's side), and gladly, did not serve the one-year jail time he was sentenced to, and he has his father's work up on the Internet again for everyone to read.

Egypt's State Security has a department for online/Internet investigations now, and I think they're pretty competent too (I bet they got their training over at the FB of I). So bloggers beware, you can never tell why you'll be arrested.

A thought might cross the mind of a few, wondering if I should be worried, being a blogger and all, of getting arrested!!! Ofcourse not. Not out of courage, certainly not --there's nothing courageous about getting arrested in Egypt. And not because they won't find me as I'm only revealing my first name. I know they can easily track where I am if they want to.

I'm not worried, because Egypt is changing.. freedoms are opening up.. freedom of speech, opinion, expression, democracy, and free elections are blossoming in Egypt (didn't you hear Mubarak's latest decision). Hehe.. ok, that's a cheap lie. What am I drinking?!

I don't know why I'm making this to be about me, I guess this is the whole point of this blog, eh :-) Anyway, I guess its obvious why I wouldn't be worried. There's simply nothing valuable in what I write here, and this blog looks pretty politically-correct so far. Plus, I'm definetely not as talented as Naguib Surur.


praktike said...

Hey, I like your blog a lot! Don't sell yourself short. And be careful! Let me know if I shouldn't link to you for any reason.

BTW, you might be interested in this article about blogging around the world. Maybe pass it along to your journalist friend, too.

praktike said...

Also, shoot me an email if you want me to delete any comments on my site.

Mohamed said...

Thanks for the support buddy. And, link all you want.

Mona Eltahawy said...

I got a kick out being called a "cool journalist", Mohamed. Shukran!

I'll be keeping a close eye on you and your fellow bloggers - these are interesting times.

Stay safe!


Mohammed said...

oh I just read mona's article titled
"kifaya, wa laken ay ghad arabi noreed"... and totally agreed with it espcially here:
"سنضحك على انفسنا اذا لم نعترف ان الغزو الاميركي للعراق كان المحفز الاساسي. لقد شاركت في مظاهرتين ضد الحرب الاميركية في العراق، ولم اقتنع انها حرب نفذت باسم الديموقراطية او التغيير. لقد تألمت كثيرا مما سببه العنف وسقوط الضحايا في العراق، وكتبت العديد من المقالات حول دعمي لحق العراقيين في التحرر من الاحتلال الاميركي واحتلال المتمردين. ولكني اشك في امكانية انطلاق الحديث عن التغيير في العالم العربي، لو لم يكن الاميركيون في العراق اليوم.
لا بد من القول هنا إن هناك طريقة لمناقشة تأثير الحرب في العراق على باقي انحاء العالم العربي من دون ان يعني ذلك بالضرورة تأييد الحرب. وهناك ايضا طريقة للحديث عن الديموقراطية والتغيير في العالم العربي من دون ان يعني ذلك تأييد بيانات ادارة بوش بخصوص الديموقراطية والتغيير في العالم العربي. ان الادارات الاميركية المتعاقبة، بما فيها هذه الادارة ، ايدت حكومات عربية بالرغم من علمها الكامل بسجلاتها غير الديموقراطية. ولذا، عندما يصدرون بيانات بخصوص الليبرالية والحرية، فان العديد منا لا يثقون بها. بيد ان هذا حوار يجب ان يدور بيننا، ويجب ان نكون نحن موضوع هذا الحوار. حتى الان، فإن المنهج السياسي في العالم العربي إما انه دفاعي، او انه منشغل بأميركا واسرائيل. بدلا من الاهتمام بمشاكلنا، نحب دائما الاشارة الى اخطاء اميركا. لقد حان الوقت ان نجعل انفسنا وهمومنا الموضوع الاساس في احاديثنا. حان الوقت كي نتحدث من دون اتخاذ موقف دفاعي، حول مدى شعورنا بالسأم وما الذي نريد تغييره. يجب ايضا ان نقدم حلولا عملية لتلك الامور التي نريد تغييرها"

I always wanted to write about the shock the fall of the iraqi regime gave to arabs.. and it made a meme that : this arab system failed... it's o either foreign occupier and local occupier.. right now arabs can only chose between dictatorship and foreign occupation... arab nation state failed... arab states failed its people...

but later this trend which would end up in asking for a third choice, was stifled by the atrocities of american occupation and the growing resistance to it..

I digress...
I'll better save it for a blog post...

Mohamed said...

Didn't I tell you she was cool ;) Yes, the occupation and manipulation are bad, but let's start by looking at ourselves for a change (and it doesn't matter if everybody knows about it). I like that.

Mona Eltahawy said...

Thanks Mohammed and Mohamed

It's exactly the kind of conversations that you two and other bloggers are having that I meant in my Asharq al-Awsat column. We need to talk about the shock to our system that was the invasion of Iraq, we need to talk about what alternatives we want to the local and foreign occupiers and we need to do all that without resorting to the usual knee-jerk defensiveness that has stifled us for so long.

All this can be done while acknowledging the occupation's moral failures such as Abu Ghraib and rendition.

I am writing a column on bloggers and the effect they could have on reform so if anyone wants to share their thoughts please write to me at info@monaeltahawy.com


praktike said...

This piece by Jordanian blogger Natasha Twal (now Natasha Tynes and a reporter for Al Jazeera) expresses the same mixed feelings:
What I saw in down town Amman was people mesmerized by what they were seeing on TV, as shocked faces seemed to be glued to the screens. The Arab reaction we gathered from the various interviews we conducted was a unified one "This is no good". From barbers to shop owners to regular business owners, the shock was the same: "Baghdad surrendered."
The Irish TV report came out that night with the message that in spite of the Iraqi jubilation to the end of Saddam’s regime, the Arab street is still in shock (and awe!).

That day I was too busy and overwhelmed with emotions (following the death of my colleague) that I really couldn’t fathom what was going on. I had to report the story so I did. The moment of contemplation came to me at the end of the day when one usually tends to run down the events of any day before ending it by sleep.
I thought to myself that night "everybody knew the Iraqis won’t win but then again why are the Arabs always defeated." Regardless of whether their cause is just or wrong the Iraq conflict is yet another defeat to add the overall Arab sense of desperation. "We lost Palestine in 1948 then followed by 1967 and now Iraq, we are just losers," said one friend. My friend’s remark seems to be the general norm nowadays as the sense of desperation doesn’t seem to be restricted to politics but also to the overall lifestyle of Arabs. New ideas are discouraged while innovative projects are put down. "You will never gonna make it, don’t give yourself a headache by embarking on it in the first place," is the normal answer any entrepreneur here expects to find. " We are just Arabs, we can’t seem to work anything out."

Mona, you may want to contact Sabbah if you haven't already; he seems to be at the center of things.