An Egyptian blogger is being called the "first prisoner of conscience after the revolution" after being sentenced to three years in prison for "insulting the military establishment" and "spreading false information."
Maikel Nabil Sanad was sentenced last week by Egypt's ruling military council following a hasty trial at which he was denied legal representation.
Sanad is a 25-year-old unemployed veterinarian from the Egyptian city of Asyut. He is an atheist of Coptic origin, a pacifist and staunchly pro-Israel. His blog, "Son of Ra," reflected these viewpoints, but his arrest allegedly was based on his posts about the military's abuse of protestors and torture of detainees during the anti-Mubarak uprising. Ironically, this information was already released by human rights groups like Amnesty International.
After refusing his obligatory military service in October, Sanad gave an interview in which he explained his pro-Israel stance. "From a young age, I read a lot about the Israeli-Arab conflict. I understood the Arab media hid facts that support Israel," he said. "Many Arabs living in Israel told me how they are really treated and how they prefer living in Israel over any Arab state."
Labeled a Zionist by Islamist and mainstream media outlets, Sanad was also criticized as a traitor and a heretic for his comments denouncing the Egyptian military. Sanad has argued that the Egyptian military leadership is as responsible for the country's troubles as was the Mubarak regime. He predicted that the army would be just as violent in subduing the anti-government protests as Mubarak.
Randa al Tahawy, an Egyptian journalist and blogger who focuses on women's issues, sees a troubling precedent in Sanad's arrest. "It's a step backward from what we're trying to achieve and that's freedom and democracy," she said.
Though Sanad was imprisoned for his comments on the military, his followers believe that his pro-Israel statements played a role. "Contrary to what most people think, that Maikel's imprisonment has nothing to do with his last article about Israel, I think that it was a great excuse for his imprisonment," wrote a friend of Sanad who blogs under the name Kefaya Punk. "It is becoming strikingly clear that our militarist leaders don't want any normalization or peace activism with Israel."
Sanad "represents a small but growing part of the blogging community – pro-secular, pro-Western and even pro-Israel," said David Keyes, executive director of Advancing Human Rights and cofounder of CyberDissidents.org. "He is attractive to many because he is utterly fearless: a staunch liberal in a deeply conservative society and a fierce critic of the military, an institution not known for its openness to alternative views."