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Egypt: “We are all Maikel Nabil”

This post is part of our special coverage Egypt Revolution 2011.

The sentencing of blogger Maikel Nabil on April 11, 2011, to three years in prison by a military tribunal in closed session for criticizing the army has Egyptian netizens in an uproar, exercising their newfound free speech rights while seeing them being threatened.

Nabil was tried by a military tribunal, despite being a civilian. Human rights organizations defending him alleged that his lawyers were tricked, and others cautioned about the dangerous precedent being set:

@monasosh: They LIED! told lawyers trial postponed & after they left found out he was sentenced & already transfered to prison #MaikelNabil #Egyarmy

@adamakary: #MaikelNabil sentenced to 3 yrs in jail. Army promised to postpone the verdict till 2morrow but convicted Maikel once his lawyers left court

@jonamorem: This is unbelievable! Tricking the lawyers and sentencing #MaikelNabil behind their backs sending him off to prison! That is unlawful!!

@jonamorem: Anyone still trusting the army after tricked sentencing of #MaikelNabil behind lawyers back must have lost his mind. #jan25 #Egypt #fail

@merritk: #MaikelNabil's lawyer says verdict not issued in open session, a violation of military court rules.#egypt

@fustat: First of all civilians like #MaikelNabil and others should not be tried in military courts, period!#EgyArmy #SCAF #Jan25

@zaynabon: #Army tried #MaikelNabil in a MILITARY court for blogging but #Mubarak is chilling on the beach in#Sharm? WTF is wrong with this picture?

@yassi2011: Not only #MaikelNabil. also #FreeAmr& all other civilians trialed in front of military courts in recent time #Jan25 #Egypt #SCAF

Mubarak 2.0?

Mikael Nabil in Tahrir Square on January 30, 2011. Photo uploaded by Mena Nader on Yfrog.

Mikael Nabil in Tahrir Square on January 30, 2011. Photo uploaded by Mena Nader on Yfrog.

Nabil's sentencing came just two days after a bloody crackdown in Tahrir Square, following the biggest Friday protest after Mubarak's ouster. Anger at the army and consternation at a perceived backsliding to Mubarak-era tactics was palpable:

@cairowire: today is a sad day for both bloggers and for human rights in egypt. #jan25 #MaikelNabil

@HebzyA: So much for freedom of expression, transparency, fair trials #maikelnabil #jan25

@deena_adel: It depresses me that the basic right of individual free expression is still criminalized in #NewEgypt.#MaikelNabil

@amiramikhail: I just cried for the first time this revolution.#maikelnabil this is a blow.

@HebzyA: #maikelnabil sentencing is another slap in the face by the army to #jan25

@MaeSideB: They just keep coming, those slaps in the face. Great job letting us get rid of every last bit of trust we might have had left! #MaikelNabil

@bassemwahda: the Egyptian Army has fully donned the mantle of the SS, opinions are oppressed and criticism not allowed! #MaikelNabil #freedom

@bassemwahda: Arresting bloggers, misleading lawyers, make shift trials and bigoted sentences..has ANYTHING changed? #maikelNabil #egypt

@BrokenArrow: The #SCAF is Mubarak's regime on steroids#egyarmy #jan25 #tahrir #MaikelNabil#NEWEGYPT

@cairowire: one could say that the sentencing of #MaikelNabilsets a dangerous precedent, only this precedent had already been set by mubarak's regime.

@ghalyshafik: The sentence of #MaikelNabil is so disgusting. Reminds us all of mubarak days. #jan25 #egypt#tahrir

@zaynabon: Arresting and jailing bloggers was trend during#Mubarak’s era. Mubarak is over, this ugly trend must be over too. #Egypt #MaikelNabil

Many felt this development constituted a threat to all freedom of expression online in Egypt:

@sarahcarr: .@maikelnabil's blogpost doesn't contain anything new. Other people have published similar (and worse) allegations online

@monasosh: The basis on which #MaikelNabil was sentenced could apply to many of us. #Jan25 #Egyarmy

@saralabib: It's not only #MaikelNabil who will be jailed, it's the freedom of every single Egyptian that is put in prison!! #freedomofspeech died

@ArabRevolution: What's next? Jail for a tweet? #MaikelNabil #Jan25#Egyarmy

@lilianwagdy: Z thing is if Maikel Nabil was sentenced because of a blog post, a lot of us cud meet Z same fate simply coz of a hashtag like #Fuckthearmy

@fazerofzanight: This is Bullshit! #MaikelNabil sentencd to 3yrs, we'd better all find a fucking hiding spot, cuz we're all “not guilty” of the same crime

@JoliePagaille: what stands did the #egyarmy sentenced@maikelnabil ? freedom of speech? then i guess we are next for all our tweets!

@amira_salah: So being a blogger is a crime now!!! People remove ur blogger keyword from ur BIOs then!! #Shame#MaikelNabil

Solidarity and calls for change

As with Kareem Amer before, a familiar mantra echoed, solidarity themes and calls for real political change:

@amiramikhail: We are all #maikelnabil

@deena_adel: I disagree with most of #MaikelNabil's views, but I will fight to the death for his right to speak them.#Egypt

@tarekshalaby: As much as I think that #MaikelNabil is severely messed up in the head, it is outrageously unjust to throw him behind bars for expression

@rashaabdulla: #MaikelNabil's case is clear message to #Internetactivists. We have to defend #freedom of expression. This is not acceptable. #Egypt #Jan25

@AhmadMoez: After sentencing #MaikelNabil, I am 100% pro the protesting soldiers in #Tahrir in formal uniform. Time for unity of #Egypt.

@tammersalem: Now more than ever the need for a presidential council of different parties instead of the army is required. #egypt #maikelnabil #jan25

3awadalla: Does the military council remember why we revolted in the first place? No more prosecution!#MaikelNabil #Jan25

@AmrBassiouny: You know what, I'm gonna write an extremely anti-military blog. Let's see if I get arrested. #Jan25#Egypt #MaikelNabil

@AmrBassiouny: DO NOT let #MaikelNabil's case scare you. Speak free, don't insult, you're safe. Anti-Army blog tonight to break barrier of fear. #Jan25

Nariman Youssef wrote in a bilingual statement of support:

Maikel is a pacifist, a conscientious objector and part of a movement called “No to compulsory conscription”. He wrote some controversial articles in the past in support of Israel, and during the Jan 25 revolution, he posted a “message to Israel calling for solidarity with the Egyptian revolution“.

While the majority of rights activists and organizations in Egypt are defending him, offering moral and practical support, some remain conflicted about him because of his pro-Israel stance. The powers that be always choose controversial victims for such cases, mainly to divide public opinion over dissidents in general.

and mirrored his post, urging other bloggers to do the same.

More than 2,700 people have joined the “Free Maikel Nabil” Facebook group to date. A dedicated Twitter account (@MaikelNabilNews) was created within hours of Nabil's sentencing.

Soft targets and clear messages

Nabil's predicament echoes blogger Kareem Amer's four year sentencing in 2007. Amer was charged with insulting Mubarak and Islam, and served his sentence in full, despite an international campaign to have him released earlier. He was finally released from prison in November 2010 -several months prior to the January revolution- alleging torture and ill-treatment.

Human rights activist Ramy Raoof wrote in Global Voices Advocacy about the message intended by Nabil's persecution:

During the past few years, Egyptian activists and journalists have broke many taboos through media platforms. The army and military forces was one of the main taboos during Mubarak’s time and is still a “red-line” in the offline media [..]

The army in Egypt is sending a clear message that they don’t accept criticism and the charges against Nabil could be easily set against any other Egyptian netizen and human rights defenders to stop them from addressing human rights violations committed by military officers.

Egyptian expat columnist Mona Eltahawy and others also posited that the army had purposely picked an easy target to deliver their objective lesson:

@monaeltahawy: #MaikelNabil is new Karim Amer. Maikel sentenced 3 yrs for “insulting army”. Karim sentenced 4 yrs for “insulting Islam and the president.”

@monaeltahawy: Bloggers #MaikelNabil & Karim Amer: soft targets bec their writing on army (Maikel) & religion (Karim) made them unpopular. #Egypt

@jonamorem: Many who now r shocked at #MaikelNabilsentenced wldnt speak up for him bec of pro-Israel views! And now all lost in #Egypt. Great! #jan25

@3awadalla: By imprisoning #MaikelNabil, the military is setting an example of those critical of it & also taking their old revenge from Maikel. #Jan25

@3awadalla: Army knew they can pull the Israel card anytime about#Maikelnabil and we'll lose public support.

@mosaaberizing: Army officers indirectly confirming that they had a bone to pick with #MaikelNabil. “His story is quite long”.

@hebamorayef: SCAF General Otman says that blogger Maikel Nabil's calls against forced consciption would have “an effect” on other youth #MaikelNabil

However, Nabil's sentencing could have the opposite effect on youth than that sought by the army:

@deena_adel: I hadn't even read #MaikelNabil's blog post,”The Army & the People were never one hand” until I heard he got arrested for it #EgyArmy #fail

@Egyptocracy: Does the army actually realize that by sentencing#MaikelNabil they are only megaphoning his words?#EgyArmy #Egypt #Jan25 #Tahrir

Before sentence was passed, Nabil wrote from incarceration [ar], urging his fellow citizens to shoulder the burden of newfound freedom:

@jonamorem: READ #MaikelNabil from prison: “Freedom has a price, I pay the price in prison and you pay yours out of jail!” http://is.gd/uSfMUT #jan25

This post is part of our special coverage Egypt Revolution 2011.

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