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Prominent blogger sentenced to two years as Egyptians vote

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SUEZ, Egypt — A prominent Egyptian blogger was sentenced to two years in jail by a military court Wednesday, as Egyptians cast ballots in the second phase of parliamentary elections, the first vote since the ouster of president Hosni Mubarak.

Maikel Nabil was sentenced on charges that included insulting the military, based on comments he made on his blog and Facebook page. The sentencing, almost nine months after his arrest, came after a retrial, and human rights groups called it a disturbing reminder of how much power the military leadership maintains. More than 12,000 people have been convicted in hasty military trials since the top generals assumed power on Feb. 11.

Earlier this month, Egypt’s ruling military council appointed a new prime minister after dozens of people were killed in crackdowns on protests that prompted a caretaker government to resign. The military chiefs promised Prime Minister Kamal el-Ganzouri wider powers under their auspices, but no control over the military or civilian justice systems. The civilian court system is functioning, but people are still being convicted in military courts, said Heba Morayef, Egypt researcher for Human Rights Watch.

“It’s very depressing,” she said. “We haven’t seen a promise to stop using military courts in any way.” She noted that, unlike Nabil’s, most high-profile convictions were overturned during retrial.

Nabil continued a hunger strike for the 114th day, surviving only on liquids. His family has begged him to eat, but Nabil vowed to continue his fast until he was “dead or released,” said his brother, Marc Nabil.

Election day for the Nabil family is an insult to an unfinished revolution, after hundreds were killed in the revolt against Mubarak and dozens more under military rule, Marc Nabil said.

“Elections have no legitimacy because the military council has lost its legitimacy,” he said. “I have lost faith.”

Vote turnout was lower Wednesday but still steady as Islamists anticipated boosting their numbers after taking the largest share of votes in the first phase of balloting last month. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party took about 47 percent of the seats, while the ultra-conservative Salafist Nour Party took about 21 percent of the seats during the first round.

The votes reflected Egyptian exhaustion with the kind of secular autocrats who ruled not only in Egypt but in neighboring Tunisia, where an Islamist party won the most seats in a democratic election in October, and in Libya, where Islamists are gaining influence.

“Islam is our only refuge and the only thing that will save us from what we are living,” said Hafez Salama, an Islamist Salafi and influential resistance figure dating back to the British occupation in Suez. “The people woke up.”

As the voting continued, liberals and leftists from the largely secular Egyptian Bloc in the canal city and vital trade hub stepped up efforts to expand public understanding of their group. Tired of being labeled anti-Islamist, the coalition is waging a political awareness campaign, explaining that it believes in a civil state and has no plans to strip Egypt of its identity as a Muslim nation.

“Most Egyptian people are Muslim and most are religious, so the Brotherhood and Nour are doing better,” said Ahmed Homos, general coordinator of the Egyptian Bloc’s campaign in Suez. “We are actually protecting Islam by keeping it out of the government. Sharia law will be blamed if something goes wrong.”

Special correspondent Ingy Hassieb contributed to this report.

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