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EGYPT: Crackdown on Facebook activists

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It seems that the government has declared another war on Facebook activism. Last weekend, police arrested about 14 Facebook activists who earlier this year called for a national strike over inflation.

The activists, in their early to mid-20s, were arrested during a peaceful protest Wednesday at the coastal city of Alexandria, about 130 miles north Cairo. The prosecutor reportedly accused them of instigating civil disobedience and blocking traffic and ordered their detention for 15 days pending investigation.

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Amnesty International is said to have expressed concern over the arrests and called upon the Egyptian authorities on Saturday to release the detainees.

The social networking site Facebook has recently become one of the prime outlets to voice criticism of President Hosni Mubarak’s regime. In the spring, a Facebook group that called itself April 6 and encompassed thousands of activists, circulated messages calling for a national strike to protest price hikes and political blockade. The call was followed by riots in the town of Mahalla in Egypt’s Nile delta, an alarming occurrence for Mubarak’s regime, which had never faced such a challenge.

Nevertheless, the call was not heeded by large sectors of the society. The girl who set up the group was arrested and held a few weeks until the interior ministry heeded an appeal made by her mother.

Since then, the regime has seemed adamant about curbing Internet activism. Last month, the local press unveiled notorious would-be legislation to regulate the media. Under the bill’s provisions, Facebook activists and bloggers are subject to legal retribution.

— Noha El-Hennawy in Cairo


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