As everyone knows, Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt could be a harsh and repressive place. A little over a year ago, in February 2010, blogger Ahmed Mustafa found this out firsthand. An engineering student from Upper Egypt, Mustafa was arrested that month because of a blog post he had written. In his post, Mustafa had criticized the Egyptian military for nepotism that he claimed occurred at the country’s military academies. For no more than this single post, Mustafa was hauled before a military court on charges of defaming the military. The charges were ultimately dropped after an international outcry, but the regime made it clear that such matters were not to be discussed.
But that was in the bad old days of Mubarak’s dictatorship. Now that Mubarak is no more and Gen. Mohamed Hussein Tantawi and the Egyptian military are guiding the country toward its democratic future, such abuses of power are fortunately a thing of the past.
On March 28, a 25-year-old blogger named Maikel Nabil was arrested at his home on charges of “insulting the military” and “spreading false information.” Nabil, who has led a campaign to end Egypt’s military conscription, criticized the military on his blog and Facebook page for abusing protesters before and after the demonstrations that led to Mubarak’s ouster. He has also criticized the military for conducting forced virginity tests on the female protesters from Tahrir Square, which was first reported on this blog on March 15. For this, he could face three years in prison. His verdict is expected on Sunday.
In the weeks since Mubarak was forced from power, the military has tried hundreds of Egyptians citizens in speedy military trials that take no more than minutes to conclude. The entire process — from arrest to sentencing — can be over in a handful of hours, and activists from nongovernmental organizations in Cairo say many of those being tried are guilty of nothing more than being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
It is tempting to refer to the events in Egypt in February as a revolution. But, in reality, it may be too soon to use the word. A dictator was deposed. That much is true. What will follow — and whether it will amount to a revolution — remains to be seen.
Maikel Nabil understood this. He recently wrote on his blog, “The revolution has so far managed to get rid of the dictator but not the dictatorship.” The Egyptian military proves him right every day he remains in jail.