Before covering the events that have taken place this week in Egypt, I think it's important to examine those stories that are in danger of being lost to the public's consciousness because of the dramatic nature of what's happening in Tahrir Square. Also, in one case, it's instructive to talk about one case which came about as a direct result of Egypt. In fact, let's start there, with Syria.
Syria lifts Internet bans. Syria is an enthusiastic banner of social media tools. Facebook and YouTube have been banned in that authoritarian country for four years. But now, that ban has been lifted.
This is a result of the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings. Like those countries, Syria has labored under a prolonged tinhorn tyranny; in this case, it has endured two generations of Assad-family rule. Perhaps it's hoped this relaxation will act as a pressure release. Perhaps it is also hoped that trouble-makers in the Syrian regime will be more easily identified if they are lured out in the virtual open.
"It seems like a policy to curry favor with the youth," Syrian dissident Ammar Abdulhamid told us. The relaxation was accompanied by the announcement of a food subsidy for the needy.
Thailand prosecutes another blogger under lèse majesté. The trail for the prosecution of Chiranuch Premchaiporn, the webmaster of the Prachatai website, is ongoing. The charge of lèse majesté is a popular one in Thailand when the government finds anyone it wishes to muzzle. The charge is one of bad mouthing the king and queen, who are very popular in Thailand. It is the Thai equivalent of "insulting the leader" or "insulting religion."
Burma sentences imprisoned blogger to more time. Kaung Myat Hlaing, known by the blogging name of Nat Soe, has been sentenced to an additional ten year sentence on top of the two years he's already serving. In a secret "trial," Hlaing was convicted of being part of a poster campaign in support of dissident Aung San Suu Kyi and others. He was deprived of food and water for ten days until he "confessed" to being part of the postering group.
China bans "Egypt" as search term. Most of the countries terrified by the people who are rising up in Tunisia and Egypt are Arab ones, like Saudi Arabia. But China is nothing if not forward thinking and accounts of people forcing their governments to account are definitely outre in the Middle Kingdom. So "Egypt" has joined "Tiananmen" and "falun gong" as banned terms on the Chinese Internet.
Malaysia announces Internet censorship regime. The Malaysian government is drawing up "guidelines" (read: laws) for online behavior (read: speech). The fact that these rules are in conjunction with the country's Sedition Act tells you everything you need to know about the motivation behind them. Blogging is popular in Malaysia and several of its more prominent bloggers eventually even ran for office; one of them, Jeff Ooi, becoming a member of the Malaysian parliament, which makes the limitations all the more unfortunate.
American university a hot-bed of censorship. No country lives up to its ideals, but when the place where those ideals are most openly trodden on is the country's university system, you know something's wrong. The U.S. is big on free speech, enshrining it in the country's highest law, the Constitution. But over the past decade or more, more and more university systems have outlawed speech that is "offensive." Offensive speech is the only speech that requires constitutional and legal guarantee of course. The right to say "good morning" or "nice shoes" or "I like sunshine" is not one likely to be abrogated.
The University of Massachusetts Amherst has made - I swear I am not making this up - on-campus rallies on "controversial" subjects (vague, much?) subject to a set of regulations that make them difficult if not impossible to stage. That's right. At this point, it is easier for Egyptians to protest for the end of the Mubarak regime than UM students to protest against the continuation of U.S. presence in Iraq. I would call the administration of the University of Massachusetts a bunch of douchebags but it probably breaks the school's speech code.
This week in Egypt characterized by blogger abductions
Sandmonkey abducted, beaten, freed. Well-known Egyptian blogger Sandmonkey was "arrested," beaten up, then let go. His blog was also hit, "due to problems related to traffic and attacks (many from IPs in Saudi Arabia)," and has been taken offline "temporarily suspended until the problems can be resolved." That was on the third; a post appeared again on the sixth.
Kareem Amer. Kareem was a cause celebre internationally. He served four years in Egyptian prison for criticizing Islam as well as his country's leadership. Although many Mideast youth defended his right to speak his mind and conscious, he was reviled in the Egyptian press and elsewhere. He was beaten and otherwise ill-treated by his jailers, repeatedly during his time in jail. He went missing around 11:00 p.m. local time on February 6 after leaving Tahrir Square with a friend.
Wael Ghonim. The Google middle eastern marketing executive was held blindfolded by Egyptian security forces for 12 days. When he was released, he admitted to being one of the founders of the We are all Khaled Said group, whose Facebook page organized a lot of the protests. His subsequent TV interviews and speeches have rejuvenating a protest movement that showed signs of flagging before Ghonim was released.
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