Egypt

Still going Wilders

Not surprisingly, none of the Dutch public or commercial TV channels are willing to broadcast Geert Wilders Koran bashing film, Fitna. According to the Volkskrant, Wilders is insisting that anyone who screens part of the film must screen the entire 10 to 15-minute feature, a condition no broadcaster is willing to meet. Wilders is now planning to release the film over the internet.

However, a majority of Dutch people do want the film to be shown - even though they fear it will stoke tension with Muslims. A poll for RTL television found that 54% of the 600 people questioned thought the film should be broadcast although 76 percent expected it to increase tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims and 74 percent saw worsening relations with Arab nations.

And, although Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende and Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen have been trying to talk Wilders out of releasing his film, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said that he will support the Netherlands if it comes under attack because of film.

More honourably, Alexander Pechtold of the social liberal D66 has said that Europe must publicly explain the values of freedom of expression and democracy in order to prevent a backlash to the film.

He may want to start in Egypt, where Danish and Dutch filmmakers were barred from an international childrens film festival in Egypt because artists in those countries insulted Islam.

Motoon II: Another update

First the good news. Aleksandr Sdvizhkov, the editor in Belarus who was jailed for publishing the Muhammed cartoons back in 2006 has been released.

More than a 1,000 (mainly small and local) Danish websites were hacked by some individual calling himself United Arab Hackers and reportedly from Saudi Arabia. The websites of international companies based in Denmark, such as Lurpak and Carlsberg, were not affected.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is threatening to expel Danish organizations, snub its officials and boycott the countrys products in reaction to the republished cartoons. Denmarks foreign aid minister is considering whether this might have consequences for Danish aid (130.2 million kroner last year) to the African country.

Bahrainis took to the streets and the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe jumped on the bandwagon.

With thanks to Media Watch Watch (twice) and The Comics Reporter.

Updated

The Vatican and the Al-Azhar university in Cairo have issued a joint statement condeming (via) the republication of the cartoon but studiously avoiding any mention of the foiled murder plot against the 72-year-old cartoonist which prompted the republications.

Qaradawi demands Mo-boycott

The Times of India (via) reports that hardline Egyptian cleric has jumped on the latest Mo-toon bandwagon by demanding a boycott of Danish products.

Regrettably, Muslims start potently with these issues, then they relax gradually as the strong (supporters) get weaker and the enthusiastic (supporters) get lazy, said el-Qaradawi during a press conference aired by Al-Jazeera television.

Thats one way of looking at it. Another point of view is that most Muslims are adult enough to realise (eventually, in some cases) that a bunch of cartoons you havent seen being published in a country you have no intention of visiting isnt the most important thing in the world.

Motoon II: The Saga Continues

The Comics Reporter (via) has a lengthy and depressing update of the state of the second run of the Muhammed Cartoons conroversy.

In Egypt

  • Four international newspapers were banned by government officials for recent republication of the images. Two of the papers have never printed the cartoon
  • The Danish Ambassador to Cairo was summoned by the Egyptian government to listen to another rant
  • Thousands of students protested
  • And two football matches have been cancelled.

Elsewhere

  • Yemen has suspended friendship with Denmark’s parliament
  • In Jordan, the lower house of Parliament fails to recognise that freedom is a value

Actor in trouble for acting

Rising Egyptian film star, Amr Waked is facing a possible ban on performing in his native Egypt for acting with an Israeli in the film. Currently shooting Between Two Rivers - a TV series that explores the inner workings of Saddam Husseins family - in Tunisia, Waked ran into trouble when his union discovered that Israeli actor Yigal Naor had been cast in the role of the ousted dictator.

Waked, who appeared alongside Hollywood stars George Clooney and Matt Damon in Stephen Gaghans 2005 blockbuster Syriana, defended his position, telling several Egyptian newspapers that he did not know an Israeli was involved until after he signed a contract.

He also said the film was pro-Arab and criticizes United States foreign policy, according to the English-language newspaper The Egyptian Mail.

The actors union, however, is opposed to any normalisation of relations with Israel and is determined to carry out an investigation into Waked when he returns from filming. This leaves him facing a potential expulsion from the union which would prevent him from acting in Egypt.

Free Kareem

Egyptian blogger Karim Amer was sentenced yesterday to four-years for criticising Egypts al-Azhar religious authorities, President Husni Mubarak and Islam. Charges against him included spreading information disruptive of public order and damaging to the country’s reputation, incitement to hate Islam and defaming the President of the Republic.

Amnesty International considers Karim Amer to be a prisoner of conscience who is being prosecuted on account of the peaceful expression of his views. The human rights organisation are calling on the Egyptian authorities to repeal legislation that in violation of international standards, stipulates prison sentences for acts which constitute nothing more than the peaceful exercise of the rights of freedom of expression, thought, conscience and religion.

A website in support of the campaign for his release can be found at freekareem.org

The flourishing business of censorship

The Egyptian constitution recognises freedom of expression and acknowledges freedom of literary, artistic and cultural invention. However, a number of self-appointed authorities have been given the absolute right to ban, sue or destroy a book for so-called religious and security reasons and, not surprisingly, censorship of books is now on the rise.

Islamic institutions like the Azhar and state-run bodies such as the Interior Ministry and the Ministry of Education have the right to review books and withdraw them from the market. One book that has fallen foul of this recently is History of the World which has been banned from foreign schools because it contained information considered blasphemous and humiliating to Islam. Another book was recently confiscated by the arts division in the Interior Ministry for allegedly criticizing modern Islamic scholars and questioning their eligibility.

In seeking to censor a book, people calling for a ban have only to petition the office of the prosecution, and a case is almost immediately upheld against both the author and the publisher if the book is deemed insulting to Islam or to the ruling regime. This has led to a situation where serious books that attempt to broach political or religious taboos are quickly banned while books that - arguably - incite hatred can be sold freely.

What these government and religious bodies exercise regarding literary work is a form of thuggery, said Mohammed Hashem, owner of a local publishing house.

Hashem was interrogated about a book he published that was later deemed irreligious and profane.

In my case, I was asked questions like: Why did you publish this book? Did you know it contained blasphemy? and so forth, said Hashem, adding, Publishers face numerous pressures.

Hashems book was quickly removed by a committee following the investigation. In other cases, representatives of the Azhar arrive and remove the controversial book although they do not have legal rights to do so, Hasham notes.

Although some have criticised religious groups for taking advantage of their new found powers to infringe on writers freedom of expression, others maintain that the problem is entrenched in the Egyptian political system and beyond religious institutions.

Author Sonallah Ibrahim said, Censorship in Egypt is closely connected to the political status that does not encourage freedoms and to a culture of silence.

The whole issue is almost comical, said Ibrahim, whose first book sparked a fury and was banned for criticizing the Egyptian cabinet.

Another author, and outspoken critic of the government, Nawal Saadawi has seen five books banned by her own publishers less than two weeks ago. Saadawis autobiography and a play called God Resigns in the Summit Meeting were among the books removed from display. Every copy of the play was shredded by local publisher, Madbouli, who also refused to return the manuscript to the author. Saadawi believes that the security police are behind the ban.

Censorship has now become a thriving business in which unknown lawyers systematically file cases against any book they feel they can deem immodest or sacrilegious, attracting a fair bit of career-enhancing media attention in the process.

Publishers have also been known to take advantage of the situation by claiming a book has been banned and then selling it illegally at a higher price.

Fundamentalists afraid to confront their demons

Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey have banned the latest issue of the French bimonthly magazine Historia Thématique, which looks at religious fundamentalism.

The Tunisian authorities announced their ban on January 10th, claiming that it was due to a picture of Muhammed which is “formally forbidden in Islam and could offend the religious feelings of Tunisians.” The picture in question comes from an illustrated copy of the Koran dating from 1583 which can be found in the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts in Istanbul.

The January issue of Historia, a monthly produced by the same publishing house, has been on sale without any problem although it has an illustration showing Mohammed in partially animal form (with feathers and the tail of a fish).

Historia editor Pierre Baron told Reporters Without Borders that the reaction to the Historia Thématique issue was indicative of the current climate of intolerance. He pointed out that the issue was also about Christian and Jewish fundamentalism, adding that his staff decided that fundamentalism was an appropriate subject because of the increasing frequency of cases of offence being taken on the grounds of religious sensibilities.

Jailed for blogging

International Herald Tribune (via) reports - and comments on - Kareem Amer, a 22 year old Egyptian student who has been in prison for over a month for defaming the president of Egypt and highlighting inappropriate aspects that harm the reputation of Egypt on his weblog.

If the Alexandria prosecutors standards of censorship were applied in the United States or Europe, thousands upon thousands of bloggers would be behind bars. The basic right of individual free expression is sadly not respected in todays Egypt. Yet the authorities decision to jail an obscure student for his writing reveals a larger struggle for free speech playing out between dissident bloggers and state prosecutors across the Middle East.

Regimes accustomed to control have struggled to respond. In Tunisia, a Web publisher, Zouhair Yahyaoui, was dragged from an Internet café by security forces and tortured into revealing his sites password after he posted a quiz mocking President Zine Abidine ben Ali. In Iran, authorities arrested a student, Mojtaba Saminejad, after he condemned the arrest of several fellow bloggers and insulted the Supreme Leader. Daif Al-Ghazal, an investigative reporter for the Web journal Libya Al-Youm, was found murdered in Benghazi — his fingers cut off as a warning sign to anticorruption online writers.

Although a human-rights lawyer accompanied Amer to his interrogation, prosecutors made clear they were indicting Amer for his beliefs. Do you fast on Ramadan? they demanded. Do you pray? They even insisted he reveal his opinions on the Darfur crisis. Amer would not retract his blogposts, so prosecutors threw him in jail — and laughed at the human-rights attorney present, openly mocking the concept of standing up for individual rights.

Another Egyptian blogger arrested

Police in Cairo have arrested a blogger who has been critical of the Egyptian government.

Rami Siyam, who blogs as Ayyoub was detained along with three friends after leaving the house of another blogger last week. No reasons have been given for his detention.

Human rights groups have accused Egypt of eroding freedom of speech by arresting several bloggers recently.

BBC Arab Affairs analyst Magdi Abdelhadi says blogging in Egypt is closely associated with political activism in a culture where democratic freedoms are severely restricted.

In recent weeks, bloggers have been exposing what they say was the sexual harassment of women at night in downtown Cairo in full view of police who did not intervene.

Mr Siyams host on Saturday night, Muhammad Sharqawi, was detained for several weeks earlier this year.

(via The Melon Farmers)

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