Wednesday, November 02, 2005


On Wednesday October 26, Alexandrian blogger Abdel Karim Nabil Suleiman was taken from his home and detained by State Security agents (Amn al-Dawla). Bloggers who visited his family report that the family believes Abdel Karim's political opinions and writings for several outlets, including Copts United, are behind the arrest. Suleiman is a 21-year-old law student at al-Azhar University (Damanhour campus). He lives in the Muharram Bek neighborhood that witnessed rioting by 5,000 Muslims outside the Mar Girgis Church on Oct. 21, resulting in three deaths and more than 100 wounded. Security forces detained 100-some rioters but recently released many of them.

As is now well known, the crowds were protesting a play performed at the church two years ago that allegedly insults Islam. The play was recently circulated via CD/DVD by unknown parties, though theories abound as to who could be behind it. Stories point the finger at the Ikhwan, competition between rival NDP candidates, and long-festering social tensions. Observers disagree on whether the violence was election-related, but all agree that the government's purely security-centric approach to sectarian relations is blatantly inadequate.

Abdel Karim maintains a blog, but his family could not say whether this is relevant to the arrest. Abdel Karim's brother speculated that his arrest may be instigated by local "fundamentalists" with whom Abdel Karim apparently has tense relations. It remains to be seen whether he has been "preventively detained" for the usual 15-day chunks and whether he will be formally charged by State Security Prosecution. The first few days (sometimes weeks) of a detention are always the murkiest, with Amn al-Dawla deliberately keeping everyone in the dark to instill fear and confusion. The causes of Karim's detention thus remain entirely unclear. Did neighborhood toughs instigate the police to arrest him? Are security agents punishing Abdel Karim for his writings? Why did his family appear to be unconcerned with locating his whereabouts?

Given these and many more questions, it seems to me counterproductive to traffic in unsubstantiated theories and rumours, or to reflexively sensationalise this as an Iranian-style 'crackdown on bloggers,' or to bicker about whether Abdel Karim's views are "representative" or worth defending. This is basic: a person's views are never the issue when it comes to arbitrary and unlawful detention. The issue is security agents' behaviour, plain and simple. Therefore, I will not comment here on what I think of Abdel Karim's writings; what I or anyone else thinks is not relevant, with due respect. It is much more important now to monitor the situation closely and work to obtain concrete information from State Security, as Egypt's human rights groups have always done in these situations.