Blogger gets 4-year prison sentence in Egypt

Miret el Naggar and Hannah Allam
McClatchy Newspapers

CAIRO, Egypt -- An Egyptian court on Thursday sentenced an anti-government Internet blogger to a four-year prison term in a landmark case that has sent shockwaves through the country's growing community of online dissidents.

The case against Kareem Amer, 23, a former student at the Islamic institute of al-Azhar, was Egypt's first prosecution of a blogger specifically for online writings; other bloggers had been detained for their offline political activities.

Amer received three years in prison on charges of contempt of religion and an additional year for defaming U.S.-allied President Hosni Mubarak.

"He's only 23 years old. This verdict will ruin his future," said Mohamed el Sharkawy, another blogger and opposition figure who was arrested and allegedly tortured in a crackdown on dissidents last year. "Security officials tailor-made this charge to shove bloggers and activists into jail. This means that the state cannot tolerate anyone voicing his opinion."

While human rights groups denounced Amer's sentence as further evidence of Mubarak's authoritarian regime backsliding on promised changes, the blogger's postings about Islam were so inflammatory that even some of the most fervent free-speech advocates couldn't bring themselves to support him. As a result, the case not only set a precedent for prosecuting bloggers, but also forced debate on the limits of religious and political expression in conservative Egypt.

"The bloggers are having deep disputes over whether to support this guy or not," said Tarek Mounir of the Cairo office of Reporters Without Borders, a press freedom watchdog group. "The bloggers here are like the political horizon. Some of them are Islamists."

To some activists here, the young blogger is a powerful symbol of the fight for free speech and a tolerant, moderate Islam. To many others, however, he's a limelight-seeker willing to offend the sensibilities of his countrymen for a few minutes of fame.

Amer's own family, said to be conservative Muslims, publicly disowned him this week in an interview with the local Masry al-Youm newspaper.

Several sympathetic bloggers drove to Alexandria, north of Cairo, to attend Amer's trial. Within minutes of the judge handing down the sentence, word of the verdict spread to Cairo and other cities via text messages, e-mail and blogs.

"A very sad day for freedom of expression in Egypt," read the message that accompanied news of the sentence on the popular Cairo-based blog

"He was very extremist," said Mohamed Adel, an 18-year-old Islamist blogger who said he supported neither Amer's writings nor the government's punishment of him. "He was talking crazy. His writings were far from true."

For two years, Amer lashed out at government and religious institutions, taking particular aim at his own school, al-Azhar, one of the bastions of Sunni Muslim thought. He accused al-Azhar clerics of advocating terrorism, stifling progress and shilling for Mubarak's government.

According to a report by Amnesty International, Amer was detained briefly in October 2005 for tarnishing Islam in his writings about sectarian clashes between Muslims and Coptic Christians. Shortly after that, he was expelled from al-Azhar for blasphemy. He has been in jail on the latest charges since November 2006.

"Al-Azhar and its university and its professors and its sheiks, you will end up in the dust bin of history and you won't find anyone to cry for you. Rest assured that your state will vanish," Amer wrote in a posting in October 2006, shortly before he was detained.

While Egyptian bloggers debate the merit of his case, foreigners have turned him into a cause celebre. In the past week, demonstrators in New York, Washington, London, Rome and several European capitals marched in front of Egyptian embassies with banners that read, "Free Kareem." Newspapers, including The Washington Post and Lebanon's Daily Star, have called for dismissing the charges against him.

Esra'a al-Shafei, a blogger in Bahrain, even set up a Web site -- -- to draw attention to the case, though she took pains to distance herself from Amer's message.

"I was offended by some of Kareem's blog writings. But I cannot support his imprisonment merely because he said a few things that insult my identity. Freedom of expression and open exchange of ideas must be respected," al-Shafei wrote in a news release posted on her site.

In Cairo, bloggers said the sentence left them both fearful and angry.

"We had prepared ourselves for this verdict, though the part about defaming the president is a bit weird," said Alaa Seif, 25, another anti-government blogger who attended Amer's trial in Alexandria. "It gave me a feeling of frustration. I feel I want to go defame the president on purpose."


(El Naggar is a special correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers.)


More information about the case is available online from Amnesty International and from Reporters Without Borders.





Dancing in the Street: Our 25 Favorite Motown Singles

Detroit's Motown Records will forever be important as both a hit factory and an African American-owned label that achieved massive mainstream success and influence. We select our 25 favorite singles from the "Sound of Young America".


The Durutti Column's 'Vini Reilly' Is the Post-Punk's Band's Definitive Statement

Mancunian guitarist/texturalist Vini Reilly parlayed the momentum from his famous Morrissey collaboration into an essential, definitive statement for the Durutti Column.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

What Will Come? COVID-19 and the Politics of Economic Depression

The financial crash of 2008-2010 reemphasized that traumatic economic shifts drive political change, so what might we imagine — or fear — will emerge from the COVID-19 depression?


Datura4 Take Us Down the "West Coast Highway Cosmic" (premiere)

Australia's Datura4 deliver a highway anthem for a new generation with "West Coast Highway Cosmic". Take a trip without leaving the couch.


Teddy Thompson Sings About Love on 'Heartbreaker Please'

Teddy Thompson's Heartbreaker Please raises one's spirits by accepting the end as a new beginning. He's re-joining the world and out looking for love.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Little Protests Everywhere

Wherever you are, let's invite our neighbors not to look away from police violence against African Americans and others. Let's encourage them not to forget about George Floyd and so many before him.


Carey Mercer's New Band Soft Plastics Score Big with Debut '5 Dreams'

Two years after Frog Eyes dissolved, Carey Mercer is back with a new band, Soft Plastics. 5 Dreams and Mercer's surreal sense of incongruity should be welcomed with open arms and open ears.


Sondre Lerche Rewards 'Patience' with Clever and Sophisticated Indie Pop

Patience joins its predecessors, Please and Pleasure, to form a loose trilogy that stands as the finest work of Sondre Lerche's career.


Ruben Fleischer's 'Venom' Has No Bite

Ruben Fleischer's toothless antihero film, Venom is like a blockbuster from 15 years earlier: one-dimensional, loose plot, inconsistent tone, and packaged in the least-offensive, most mass appeal way possible. Sigh.


Cordelia Strube's 'Misconduct of the Heart' Palpitates with Dysfunction

Cordelia Strube's 11th novel, Misconduct of the Heart, depicts trauma survivors in a form that's compelling but difficult to digest.


Reaching For the Vibe: Sonic Boom Fears for the Planet on 'All Things Being Equal'

Sonic Boom is Peter Kember, a veteran of 1980s indie space rockers Spacemen 3, as well as Spectrum, E.A.R., and a whole bunch of other fascinating stuff. On his first solo album in 30 years, he urges us all to take our foot off the gas pedal.


Old British Films, Boring? Pshaw!

The passage of time tends to make old films more interesting, such as these seven films of the late '40s and '50s from British directors John Boulting, Carol Reed, David Lean, Anthony Kimmins, Charles Frend, Guy Hamilton, and Leslie Norman.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.