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Cable sobre el creciente papel de los blogueros egipcios

ID: 199582
Date: 2009-03-30 13:36:00
Origin: 09CAIRO544
Source: Embassy Cairo
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Dunno: 06CAIRO3161 07CAIRO3214 08CAIRO1973 08CAIRO2403 08CAIRO783 09CAIRO152 09CAIRO229 09CAIRO243 09CAIRO468
Destination: VZCZCXRO3905
RR RUEHROV
DE RUEHEG #0544/01 0891336
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 301336Z MAR 09
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2050
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 1241
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 CAIRO 000544

SIPDIS

FOR NEA/ELA AND DRL/NESCA
NSC FOR PASCUAL AND KUCHTA-HELBLING
LONDON FOR SREEBNY

E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/29/2029
TAGS: PGOV, PHUM, KDEM, KIRF, KWMN, SOCI, EG
SUBJECT: BLOGGERS MOVING FROM ACTIVISM TO BROADENING
DISCOURSE AND SELF-EXPRESSION

REF: A. CAIRO 468
B. CAIRO 243
C. CAIRO 229
D. CAIRO 152
E. 08 CAIRO 2403
F. 08 CAIRO 1973
G. 08 CAIRO 783
H. 07 CAIRO 3214
I. 06 CAIRO 3161

Classified By: DCM Matt Tueller for reason 1.4 (d).

1. KEY POINTS

-- (C) Egypt's bloggers are playing an increasingly important
role in broadening the scope of acceptable political and
social discourse, and self-expression.

-- (C) Bloggers' discussions of sensitive issues, such as
sexual harassment, sectarian tension and the military,
represent a significant change from five years ago, and have
influenced society and the media.

-- (C) The role of bloggers as a cohesive activist movement
has largely disappeared, due to a more restrictive political
climate, GOE counter-measures, and tensions among bloggers.

-- (C) However, individual bloggers have continued to work to
expose problems such as police brutality and corporate
malfeasance.

2. (C) Comment: The government generally allows bloggers
wide latitude in posting material critical of the GOE.
Exceptions to this policy are bloggers who directly insult
President Mubarak or Islam, and the government has arrested
and jailed bloggers who have crossed these red-lines. The
GOE has also arrested activists, such as Philip Rizk and
Mohammed Adel, who have used blogging to organize and support
protests (refs A and C). Activists are increasingly writing
blogs to advance their political aims. Contacts accurately
point out that bloggers have ceased to function as a cohesive
activist movement. It is noteworthy that bloggers did not
play a significant role in the most recent example of mass
cyber-activism -- the April 6, 2008 strike orchestrated
through Facebook (ref G).

-----------------------------
The Current State of Blogging
-----------------------------

3. (C) Egypt has an estimated 160,000 bloggers who write in
Arabic, and sometimes in English, about a wide variety of
topics, from social life to politics to literature. One can
view posts ranging from videos of alleged police brutality
(ref B), to comments about the GOE's foreign policy, to
complaints about separate lines for men and women in
government offices distributing drivers' licenses. One NGO
contact estimated for us that a solid majority of bloggers
are between 20 and 35 years old, and that about 30 percent of
blogs focus on politics. Blogs have spread throughout the
population to become vehicles for a wide range of activists,
students, journalists and ordinary citizens to express their
views on almost any issue they choose. As such, the blogs
have significantly broadened the range of topics that
Egyptians are able to discuss publicly.

-------------------------------------------
Expanding Discourse and Personal Expression
-------------------------------------------

4. (C) Hossam Bahgat of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal
Rights told us that blogging allows Egyptian youth to air
their views about social and political issues in ways that
were "unimaginable five years ago." He said that blog
debates currently cover formerly "taboo" topics, such as
Christian-Muslim tensions and the military's potential role
in succession. Nora Younis, a blogger who now concentrates
on journalism and film-making, described how bloggers began
public discussions of issues, such as sexual harassment and
the legal status of Bahai'is, that were previously too
sensitive to discuss. Bahgat attributed the media's
sympathetic treatment of the Bahai'is' national
identification card case in January 2008, in comparison with
skeptical media coverage of the issue in 2004, to bloggers'
efforts.


CAIRO 00000544 002 OF 003


5. (C) Two young upper middle-class bloggers told us that
expressing themselves on their blogs is a "bright spot" for
them in the current atmosphere of political, economic and
social malaise. They noted that blogging provides them with
an outlet, which they perceive as relatively anonymous, to
disseminate criticism. One of them expressed satisfaction
over being able to attack the "religious hypocrisy" and the
"serious problems" in the society. A third blogger told us
that she uses her blog to discuss whatever issues may be
bothering her: her views on dysfunction in the Sinai, the
prime minister's latest speech, or the Obama administration's
Middle East diplomacy. She has written critically about
issues, such as the GOE's poor response to the Dweika rock
slide disaster in September 2008 (ref F), without any GOE
attempts to silence her.

---------------------------------------
Relationship with the Independent Media
---------------------------------------

6. (C) Hossam Bahgat noted that the open atmosphere created
by bloggers has positively influenced the independent media,
especially satellite television, to discuss sensitive issues
such as sexuality and abortion. Larry Pintak, Director of
the American University in Cairo's Adham Center for Media
Studies, explained that while bloggers originally pushed the
independent press to tackle new issues in 2006, the
independent press has now overtaken the blogs in breaking
important news. Pintak asserted that while bloggers did
ground-breaking reporting on sexual assaults in 2006 before
the independent press covered the issue, bloggers are now
recycling news stories that the independent press breaks.
According to Pintak, the relationship between bloggers and
the independent press has come full circle, as bloggers now
depend on the independent press for news.

-------------------------------
Originally an Activist Movement
-------------------------------

7. (C) While the voices of individual bloggers are currently
making their mark on expanding public discourse and personal
expression, bloggers originally saw themselves as a cohesive
movement of political activists. Wael Abbas, perhaps the
most prominent Egyptian blogger, said that in 2006, bloggers
with diverse orientations -- secular, Islamist, and leftist
-- worked together to organize events, such as a sit-in
protest at the Judges' Club (ref I) and demonstrations in
Tahrir Square. Abbas characterized bloggers during this
period as activists who worked closely with civil society
organizations to raise public awareness of issues, such as
sexual assault. Because of bloggers' independent, relatively
anonymous identities, Abbas continued, they were able to
engage on these issues more freely than NGOs. Abbas believes
that female bloggers' personal accounts of being harassed put
an important personal face on the problem.

8. (C) Since 2006, Abbas said, bloggers have not been able to
replicate the same kind of political activism for a number of
reasons. He cited growing tensions and divisions within the
blogger community, where Islamist bloggers are openly
critical of secular and Christian bloggers. As part of the
GOE's increasing crack-down on political reformers since
2005-6, Abbas said, State Security (SSIS) began to target
bloggers. He accused SSIS of orchestrating his ouster from a
job at the German News Agency, and of pressuring western news
organizations to dismiss other bloggers who challenged the
GOE. Abbas noted that many bloggers have abandoned their
blogs due to this pressure, and are focusing instead on
careers in journalism and civil society.

9. (C) Abbas explained that as political activism waned after
2006, bloggers lost their context for advocacy. He concluded
that there is currently no political opening for bloggers to
push for significant change, and predicted that the next
opportunities may be during the 2011 presidential election.
Human rights activist Engi Haddad separately echoed Abbas'
assessment, opining that there is a current "despondency"
among bloggers, whom she considers to be part of the broader
activist community. She asserted that in the current
"political stagnation," bloggers are bereft of compelling and
achievable political causes, but she predicted they would
play a crucial role "during the eventual succession."

----------------------------------
Bloggers as Human Rights Activists

CAIRO 00000544 003 OF 003


----------------------------------

10. (C) While Abbas minimizes bloggers' current impact as
activists, veteran civil society advocates view bloggers'
contributions as significant. Bahey Al-Din Hassan, Director
of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, stressed the
importance of bloggers' concern with torture and press
freedom. At a public lecture in February following the
screening of a documentary film about blogging, human rights
lawyer Gamal Eid lauded Wael Abbas for posting an alleged
police sodomy video a few days earlier (ref B), and for
breaking the El-Kebir police brutality case. In November
2007, a court sentenced two polic officers to three years in
prison for assaultin and sodomizing bus driver Imad
El-Kebir. The cse gained notoriety after Abbas posted a
cell phoe video recording of the attack (ref H).

11. (C Eid cited the "3,000 hits per day" on Abbas' blogas
evidence of his influence, asserting that Abbs is more
widely read than "Rose Al Youssef," th SSIS-backed daily
newspaper. Separately, a human rights lawyer specializing in
torture at the Hisham Mubarak Law Center marveled at Abbas'
power to expose police brutality on his blog. Bloggers have
also been active on other issues. For example, Tamer
Mabrouk, who has blogged about corruption, gained attention
in January when a court fined him for accusing a chemical
company of dumping toxic waste into the Suez canal and a
nearby lake (ref D); his lawyers are appealing the fine.
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