Free Speech: The Case of Maikel Nabil

Yousra el Nemr
Staff Reporter

Nabil is being tried over the content of his blog - PHOTO FROM WEB

Many Egyptians are still trying to comprehend what went wrong to turn a protest into a blood bath at Maspero, state television headquarters, on Oct. 11. The incident is related to the on-going debate about the professionalism of Egyptian state television and individual cases of prosecution against activists voicing their opinions.

Maikel Nabil Sanad, a 26 year-old blogger who played a role at the Tahrir Square demonstrations against Mubarak regime, was arrested on March 28, 2011 due to the content of one of his blog posts. He was accused of “insulting the military system and threatening public security” and was sentenced to three years in jail, without the presence of any lawyers.

On his blog, Nabil expressed his opinion about the performance of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) and stated that Egyptians are against what the army is doing to steal their revolution. Nabil, a pacifist who refused to serve his mandatory army duty, has always called for freedom and liberty in the new Egypt as well as peace with Israel.

“The revolution has so far managed to get rid of the dictator,” he writes on his blog, “but not the dictatorship.”

This is one of the many military trials for civilians that have taken place since the Mubarak regime was ousted and SCAF was put in charge to lead the country through a transitional period, which keeps extending as parliament and presidential election timings get pushed back.

According to local human rights organizations, some 12,000 civilians have been sent to military trial, where military court verdicts cannot be appealed.

Maikel Nabil’s case has captured a lot of attention of local an international media due as well as social networking sites, and caused many to question just how much the country has changed since Mubarak surrendered his power.

Refusing his three-year prison sentence for stating his opinion, Nabil has been on hunger strike for nearly three months. His health has been deteriorating and his weight dropped from 60 kilograms to 44 kilograms. His family fears the worst saying he is after receiving news that he has stopped taking his medicine and drinking water.

After the hunger strike passed the 55th day, the military court has revoked Nabil’s three-year jail sentence ordered that the young activist faces a retrial, which has been rescheduled to take place on Tuesday Oct. 18.

“I think that the military has taken such action against Maikel arbitrarily, especially when he was subjected to a military trial” said Sara El Masry, a political science senior.

El Masry also explained the public’s reactions towards Nabil’s issue, saying, “People were mobilized for or against Maikel on a religious basis, and actually, some people are no longer showing their sympathy for him because his writings in his blog indicate that he is an atheist.”

“When I heard about Maikel Nabil’s story, I could not believe it and up till now I cannot imagine that we still live in this kind of dictatorship and we still accept such restrictions on our liberty and freedom of speech within our own country,” said Hossam Reda, an architectural engineering student.

“I do not know what the major problem is with criticizing the military system; everyone in this country has the right to say whatever they want as long as it does not harm the people or the state and I do not think Maikel’s opinion disturbed public security as claimed (by SCAF),” Reda adds.

As other political activists have been prosecuted or continue to face arrests because of what they write on the internet, debates arose regarding how safe social networking sites have become and how much freedom of speech a citizens currently enjoy.

Dr. Mervat Abou Ouf, associate professor in the journalism department, believes that there should be no red lines when it comes to freedom of expression.

“There are no kinds of restrictions on anyone’s opinion as long as they clearly state that it is their own and support this opinion with obvious facts. We earn our right in any medium, especially online, to express what we believe in, and so long as it is in the limits of being our own view, then nobody should take away this right from Maikel,” she says.

“However, what is dangerous is that bloggers give themselves the right to exceed all limits of what’s (considered) ethical,” she added, commenting on what happened with Nabil.

Even after the ouster of the old regime, and although Egypt is supposedly to be on the threshold of a new democratic state, freedom of speech is still considered, through the actions of the military institution, a crime and not a given right.

Ending her words in apparent grievance Dr. Abou Ouf stated, “We are unfortunately living in the same state we had in Mubarak’s era in terms of freedom of expression; we only removed the person. Even the media is trying to be active in the most passive way ever. Media now is really shameful.”