03/15/2007, 00.00
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Campaign mounts to free the Egyptian blogger, imprisoned for having “offended Islam”.

Abdel Kareem Nabil Soliman, 22 years old, is the first Egyptian to be condemned for having expressed his opinions via Internet. According to bloggers world wide, many of them Muslim, he is being used as a scapegoat by the government to ensure that the religion in untouchable.

Alexandria (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Many of them has offended the Egyptian President and Government in some way, but none of them have ever paid the price: the charges brought against Abdel Kareem Nabil Soliman are meant to hammer home the message that Egypt’s real untouchable is Islam.


That’s Mona Eltahawy’s opinion, born in Cairo but resident in New York, who has given her blog over to the “Free Kareem” campaign (Soliman’s pseudonym) and in which thousands of internet users participate one of them has even opened a highly visible site - www. freekareem.org – which hosts international declarations in favour of the blogger, who recently became an honorary member of the British Pen association.


Abdel Kareem Nabil Soliman, 22 years old, is the first Egyptian to be condemned for having expressed his opinions via Internet. The charges were brought against him by al-Azhar, University where Nabil studied law before being expelled – for his criticism of the religion.


In his posts the young man declared himself to be lay, that he didn’t fast during the month Ramadan (which he defined as the month of “hypocrisies”), and he criticised his ex university, the most prestigious in the Sunni world, which “spreads radical ideas and seeks to suppress freedom of thought”. The first arrest dates to October 2005, when Soleiman defended the local Christian community on internet, targeted by Islamic extremists.


For having expressed this opinion he received death threats, even before he was arrested, and was subjected to police harassment and surveillance.   A court in Alexandria condemned him to four years imprisonment, considering him guilty of “insulting Islam and defaming the Egyptian president, Mubarak”.


Following the arrest in November the Egyptian and International Virtual Community joined together in a campaign for his release.  Many consider Nabil “an example” and his condemnation “an indication of the Governments will to clamp down on freedom of expression in the country”.


Eltahawy states “Kareem is being used. A perfect example that freedom of expression is not in safe hands with the Mubarak regime, which can turn things on and off”.


Esra'a al-Shafei, 20 years old, is a Bahrain blogger and friend of Soliman: “As Arabs and Muslims – she says – it is very important we support this campaign. We must make Arab governments understand that we will not be silenced”.


Obviously not everyone agrees with her: in some posts, Soliman writes that Islamic dictates are respected “out of fear and social pressure to conform”. For some, this “is un just these offensive and incorrect statements”.   

There are circa 6 thousand bloggers in Egypt: a very low number when compared to the over 80 million inhabitants.  Moreover very few of these virtual diaries deal with political or social themes.


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