Accused Egyptian Blogger Stands Trial

By NADIA ABOU EL-MAGD
The Associated Press
Thursday, January 18, 2007; 9:04 PM

CAIRO, Egypt -- An Egyptian blogger went on trial Thursday on charges of insulting Islam and causing sectarian strife with his Internet writings. Egypt's first prosecution of a blogger came as Washington has backed away from pressuring its Mideast ally to improve its human rights record and bring democratic reform.

Abdel Kareem Nabil often denounced Islamic authorities and criticized Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on his Arabic-language blog. He has been in detention since November and faces up to nine years in prison if convicted.

Egypt has arrested a string of pro-democracy bloggers over the past year, sparking condemnation from human rights groups.

Nabil's trial in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria began two days after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with Mubarak, seeking support for a new American strategy on calming violence in Iraq.

But unlike past visits to Egypt when she pressed demands for greater democracy, Rice made no reference to reform, instead praising the two countries' "important strategic relationship _ one that we value greatly."

In 2005, the Bush administration made Egypt _ which Mubarak has ruled unquestioned for a quarter century _ the centerpiece of what it called a policy priority of promoting democratic change in the Arab world.

But Egyptian reformists say Washington has all but dropped its pressure on Mubarak amid the Bush administration's need for support on Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The United States was also spooked when Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood made big gains in 2005 parliamentary elections and the radical Hamas movement won 2006 Palestinian elections _ raising fears that greater democracy would increase fundamentalists' power, activists say.

"America's stance is very clear. It is so afraid after the victories of Hamas in Palestine and the Brotherhood in Egypt," said Ahmed Seif al-Islam, a member of one of three Egyptian rights group backing Nabil in his case.

The United States "has not only lifted its hand and stopped pressure. We are in the phase of (the U.S.) hinting to government they can take repressive measures for the sake of stability," he said.

In Thursday's court session, Nabil was charged with inciting sedition, insulting Islam, harming national unity and insulting the president, a court official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of court rules.

Defense attorneys asked for time to review the indictment and the trial was adjourned until Jan. 25.

His lawyer, Radwa Sayed Ahmed, said Nabil had been held in solitary confinement, forbidden visits from his family and lawyers. In court Thursday, "he didn't look good," she told the Associated Press from Alexandria.


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