Egypt: Mubarak regime’s attacks on free speech

‘Bloggers’ organize to fight repression

As opposition to the Mubarak regime in Egypt has grown, the police and security forces have attempted to stop this from exploding into the open. Free speech has been severely restricted. For those with access to computers, blogging has grown as a method of speaking out. But over the past two years, 100 bloggers have been arrested.

A meeting in Cairo took place on 25 March to protest about the bloggers’ arrests, called by a broad group of activists. 50 people attended, including human rights lawyers, journalists, a campaigner for disability rights and about ten youths. It had been advertised through Facebook and several attended their first such meeting as a result.

Arrested bloggers described their brutal experiences at the hands of the police. Electric shocks were used to try to get them to talk about groups the police said they belonged to. One was held in darkness for 22 days. By the end, he said he’d forgotten his name, as he was just called by number whenever police spoke to him. He had been released just two weeks ago, after being held for four months.

Other speakers described how the press is tightly controlled. Newspapers that expose the corrupt regime are sometimes stopped from publication, their journalists harrassed and their photographers’ equipment confiscated. Blogs have grown, become more serious and more trusted over the past three years. They report the strikes and protests taking place. International news organisations, like CNN, are following them.

The blogging community is finding ways to resist the police. When one is arrested, the message is quickly spread and gains publicity. The arrested blogger becomes a hero. Last year, an American photographer of police attacks on workers at Mahalla was released after he sent a Twittr message from his mobile phone while being taken to the police station and a protest quickly developed. Rather than being intimidated, the bloggers are becoming more determined and confident.

The growing movement of the Egyptian working class and youth were an inspiring example to workers all over the world. The government’s attacks on the bloggers was not a sign of strength but its increasing fear. The struggle for free speech on the internet was part of the wider struggle for democratic rights, including organising free trade unions, freedom to assemble, demonstrate and stand candidates in free elections. The working class would use these rights to demand decent pay, education, housing and a better life. That is why the regime is so determined to stop the bloggers, but they will not succeed as the working class becomes increasingly militant.

Egyptian capitalism could not afford democratic rights when it was growing. Now its growth is stalling with the world economy is in crisis, the struggle for democracy is even more clearly linked to the need for socialism.

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March 2009