Egypt's growing blogger community pushes limit of dissent
Despite a crackdown on the Net by other Arab countries, Egypt's bloggers are leading antigovernment protests.
With unkempt black locks and a laptop tucked under his arm, Alaa Fattah has a voice that carries further than those of other antigovernment activists.
Mr. Fattah, just 23, is one of Egypt's leading bloggers, part of an online community that acts as a virtual megaphone for Egypt's burgeoning opposition movement. Other countries in the Middle East have started cracking down on the Internet, arresting bloggers and imposing strict censorship regimes.
As bloggers gain clout in Cairo, observers say it is only a matter of time before Egypt follows suit.
At a recent demonstration in Cairo's Opera Square against the 25-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak, activists distributed placards that read "Freedom Now" and "No to Oppression." Fattah, on the other hand, passed out lists of websites to a dozen or so local bloggers who act as an unofficial media outlet for Egypt's disparate opposition.
"You just can't rely on the mainstream media here," he says.
The connection between the Internet and dissent is not new. In the late 1990s, Zapatista rebels in southern Mexico gained international attention for their plight, largely because of a savvy Net campaign. Similarly, the antiglobalization protests that rocked Seattle in 1999, and have hit other cities since, were organized largely online. Today, blogs, or Web journals, have taken up the charge.
The number of blogs worldwide has doubled in the past five months, and a new blog is created every second, according to a recent report by the blog-watchers Technorati. The Middle East is witnessing its share of that growth.
Many Arab bloggers are tackling sensitive political and human rights issues rarely broached by the state-controlled media. They are proving to be a powerful source of information, capable of reaching a few hundred like-minded activists, or of rallying international attention to a cherished cause.
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