Egypt’s bloggers and labor activists make common cause

Egypt’s bloggers and labor activists make common cause

Over a dozen Egyptian “Facebook activists” were arrested last week, as authorities continued to suppress a network resulting from a recent textile workers’ strike. Those detained included Ahmed Maher whose Facebook group that supported the strikers attracted some 60,000 people.

Egypt’s crackdown on Facebook activism reflects the authorities’ anxiety that protests have escalated over several months, generating perhaps the biggest wave of strikes since the 1940s and that strikers protesting against economic hardship are starting to form independent unions, raise political demands and form links with civil society activists. Bloggers ” have taken on the role of bridging the gap between civil society’s desire for democracy and workers’ demands for better pay and working conditions,” according to one recent report.

The state is also disturbed at the growing use of the Internet for political ends.  “The government wants to separate electronic space from politics and clamp down on young people who would dare to use that space to call for an end to the regime,” says newspaper editor Mohamed Sayed Said. “It is launching a wave of terror against young intellectuals who would use electronic space as a means to access freedom of expression.”

The Project on Middle East Democracy recently highlighted concerns that draft legislation covering new curbs on the media could be used as a pretext to crack down on journalists, political critics, and others, including Facebook activists and bloggers.

Egypt has been a prime mover behind a controversial Arab media charter, which seeks to regulate satellite broadcasting across the Arab world. The code, endorsed by all Arab Ministers of Information with the exception of Qatar, allows signatory states to suspend or revoke the broadcasting license of any TV channel. A leading Arab journalist denounced the charter as a product of “outdated mentalities” at a recent seminar organized by the Doha-based Arab Democracy Foundation.