A reawakening of free speech in Egypt?

In the wake of the January 2011 Egyptian revolution, harmonies of free speech and reform echoed through the crowds of Tahrir Square and were heard around the world.

One Egyptian lyricist, Hany Adel, voiced the revolutionary weapons of dreams and words in his song, Sout Al Horeya ‘the sound of freedom,’ which quickly gained popularity across the internet and social media networks.

The people of Egypt have suffered at the mechanics of a forced silencer for years; and at the start of the January 2011 uprisings, freedom of expression and the right to information was, once again, severely compromised with the imposition of a total censorship on internet and mobile communications by the former regime. The action received worldwide criticism and pointedly violated Egypt’s international human rights obligations under Article 19 of the ICCPR.  

The lifting of the ban and subsequent upheaval of the Mubarak regime in Egypt opened the gates to a revitalized right, to freedom of expression, for the Egyptian people. Chair of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at American University in Cairo stated, ‘The voice of the Egyptian individual has been suppressed for nearly 60 years, but now, for the first time in many years, Egyptians feel this voice matters.”

In the months after the revolution, people are thirsty to speak out. However, critics question how much has truly changed since the era of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. A recent case, in an Egyptian military court, illustrates roadblocks to total freedom of expression are still in place.

Blogger Maikel Nabil posted a critique of the interim governing body, the Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, and questioned reform following the revolution earlier this year. He was subsequently arrested and charged with “insulting the military establishment” and “spreading false information.” Nabil was convicted in an Egyptian military court and sentenced to three years in prison in early April, without a formal hearing and without the presence of his lawyers. His conviction is the most severe strike against freedom of expression in Egypt since 2007, when the Mubarak regime convicted the first blogger, Abdel Kareem Nabil, a former law student, for criticizing former President Mubarak and the Islamic authorities of the state. The use of military jurisdiction for indicted civilians is by no means a new phenomenon, with various trials held during the Mubarak regime and post-revolution.

An uphill battle for true freedom of expression still exists in Egypt. But, the sound of freedom, Sout Al Horeya, is ever calling and the people of Egypt will not back down from the opportunity to voice their newly acquired right.

 SANA AHMED

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