Azimi on Egyptian bloggers

Our friend Negar Azimi has a a very nice, long piece in The Nation about Egyptian bloggers and the recent video torture scandals. It's all good stuff, but I'll highlight the part about our own Hossam:

But how threatening, we may wonder, can a handful of bloggers be--and how much of a threat could they be to the twenty-five-year-and-running rule of a leader like Mubarak? After all, many of them are simply tech-savvy twentysomethings recently out of university. And besides, how big a role can bloggers play in a country in which they number just over 3,000--a mere fraction of whom write political content?

Hossam el-Hamalawy runs arabawy.org, a blog that has been central to documenting what he has dubbed Egypt's very own Videogate. "We're exploding," he tells me. "The government didn't see it coming, and it's creating a domino effect. You read bloggers in Tunisia, Yemen, Libya, and they take pride in the Egyptian gains. Once you get this far, there's no going back. You can't take the plug out." As recently as January 2005, there were only about thirty blogs in the country. "My dream is that one day there will be a blogger with a digital camera in every street in Egypt."

Exploding or not, this sort of electronic activism defies facile definitions. No longer simply an upper- or middle-class phenomenon, blogging has become an outlet for expression among a broad spectrum of people. Some bloggers post exclusively from Internet cafes (those without PCs), some are without a university education, many are women. Today there is a blogger in every urban center in Egypt--from the stark Sinai Peninsula to Mansoura in the Nile Delta. Most write in Arabic. Recently one blogger went so far as to set up a site devoted to bringing attention to police brutalities taking place in the Sinai following bouts of terrorism (hundreds, even thousands of Bedouins have been disappeared by state security, often locked away and abused with impunity). Other blogs broach the sensitive subject of how the country's religious minorities are treated--particularly the Copts, who make up Egypt's Christian community. Blogs have also been a crucial space for engaging such uncomfortable topics as sexuality, race and beyond. Suddenly, the (improvised) Arabic word mudawena, signifying a blogger, has found its way into the lexicon.
Read it all. One small criticism: quoted stats about print media are not accurate, independent newspapers now play a much bigger role and state press figures are believed to be over-inflated. I don't think we should underestimate the importance of the feedback loop between the new dailies with websites such as al-Masri al-Youm and bloggers.
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.