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Egypt's growing blogger community pushes limit of dissent

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After government supporters attacked and beat protesters in late May, Egypt's blogging community led the effort to publicize what had happened.

"I had never heard the word blogger until May 25," says Rabab al-Mahdi, a political science professor at the American University in Cairo, and an opposition activist. "But now I know them well because of all the amazing coverage they had of the protests. My friends overseas all followed what happened through the blogs, because they have more credibility than the mainstream media."

Activists in Egypt rely on blogs like Fattah's to find out the time and place of future demonstrations, to learn who has been arrested and where they have been taken, and to debate the effectiveness of opposition strategies. In short order, Egypt's bloggers have become a political force, capable of more than merely commenting from the sidelines.

In early June, Fattah and two other bloggers decided they were tired of protesting in the same tired locations, with the same hackneyed slogans. Acting independently of opposition elders, they used their blogs to organize a protest in a working-class Cairo neighborhood, which attracted a respectable 300 people. The young bloggers' innovative logos, slogans, and choice of location prompted a sweeping debate among the Egyptian opposition.

Similarly, after three suicide bombers pounded the Sinai resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh on July 23, three other Egyptian bloggers organized an antiterrorism candle light vigil. It attracted so much interest that the government banned it at the last minute.

"Egypt's bloggers seem to have been able to make the transition from spouting hot air, to political organization and political work and that's impressive," says Marc Lynch, a political science professor specializing in Arab media at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass.

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