Joining an online social network group is risky business in Egypt. Twenty-six people were rounded up and arrested at a gathering organised on Facebook on Wednesday. The internet activists were attending a peaceful meeting on a beach in Alexandria when they were detained unexpectantly.
The meeting was planned to take place on the touristic Sidi Bishr beach. Attendees had got together via the http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=9973986703 " target="_blank">"6 April Youth Movement" Facebook group. The group was involved in the organisation of the 6 and 7 April riots, which were held in protest of deteriorating living conditions in Egypt. The response from the authorities was severe. Three people were killed and around 55 arrested.
Wednesday's participants met to demand the release of those arrested. But the police classed the gathering as a violation of the country's state of emergency, in place now for 27 years, which bans the public meeting of more than five people.
The activists on the beach a few minutes before the police arrived
"The government’s become completely paranoid about new media"
Wael Abbas, 32, is a blogger and human rights activist in Cairo.The activists came to Alexandria from Cairo on a bus. Some of them were part of the pro-democratic "Youth for Change" movement, which is linked to the reformist Kefaya party. But most of them had met via the internet. They wore T-shirts with "6 April Youth Movement" written on them, in reference to the Facebook group. The fact that they chose the 23 July - Egypt's national day - was considered pretty provocative. They also used the national flag, which they put up on the beach, to symbolise its return to the people. This, along with the singing of national songs, was taken badly by the authorities, who considered it offensive coming from the opposition. On top of that, the government's become completely paranoid about new media.
The detainees were supposed to be held for two weeks. But after a lot of pressure from lawyers, the authorities ordered the release of the remaining 14 prisoners, who should have been discharged this morning."
"Even the Muslim Brotherhood is using Facebook!"
Ibn ad Dunya has been a blogger since 2005. He lives in Alexandria. Because of an increase in surveillance of political sites in Egypt, he wants to remain anonymous.These people are very brave - they represent hope for Egypt. Most of them got involved in the movement in the days before "6 April". By using a Facebook group they'd managed to launch a solidarity call to support the Mahalla workers who were against rising food prices. The group managed to attract 63,000 people in only two weeks.
Facebook's very popular in Egypt. And like blogs it's tended to become used more and more as a political tool. Even the Muslim Brotherhood is using it! To become an activist on the internet is easy. It's an important step for Egypt - a country that's generally not very politically active.
After 6 April, the Facebook group's organiser, who had called for a second mobilisation, was violently arrested by the police. They took him from his car and threw him into the back of a police van. He was taken to Cairo, to the infamous Lazoughly state security headquarters. There, he was beaten and threatened with rape if he didn't tell them the password for the group. He was finally released after he gave them a fake password. But the authorities made it very clear that next time; he'd be leaving in a much worse state.
It only took a few weeks for these activists, at first only online, to find themselves in very real situations."
The group by the Sidi Bishr beach
Anti Muslim Brotherhood group on Facebook