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Egypt targets Web-savvy opponents

Activists say Abdel Moneim Mahmoud was arrested because he's a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and has a popular blog.

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Abdel Moneim Mahmoud represents a new wrinkle in a long-time threat to the regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

He's young, passionate about democracy, and well educated. Perhaps most alarming to Egypt's autocratic ruler, he's a technologically savvy member of the main opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood.

Mr. Mahmoud and other like-minded 20-somethings have been pushing the Brotherhood to change from within, focusing on the Internet to recruit young Egyptians and to build alliances with secular activists in the fight for reform.

The journalist and human rights lawyer is spreading the word on his Arab-language blog, "I am a Brother." But while attracting new interest in the Brotherhood, he's drawn the attention of security services, too.

Mahmoud now languishes in Egypt's feared Tora prison, though he has not yet been charged with or convicted of any crime.

"He's played a very, very active role in youth outreach for us, he's helped lead the project on modernizing our media and communications, and his blog has attracted a lot of attention," says Mohammed Ghuzlan, a young Brotherhood member and close friend of Mahmoud's. "That's all a threat to the regime." Mr. Ghuzlan's father, a Brotherhood member, is in jail.

One of the widest-reaching crackdowns on political dissent is now ongoing in Egypt, largely focused on the Muslim Brotherhood, the country's most popular opposition group. Human Rights Watch (HRW) says that more than 1,000 members of the organization have been arrested in the past year for their peaceful political activism.

Mahmoud is now one of the highest profile detainees, largely due to the popularity his blog.

The arrests are "just one of a series of threats to freedom of expression that have emerged in the past year, and you have to see it in the context of a broader political crackdown that the government is engaged in right now," says Elijah Zarwan, the Egypt researcher for Human Rights Watch. "In Abdel Moneim's case … he was singled out because he helps run the Brotherhood's English-language website, because he's organized others to start blogging, and because he's spoken out at international human rights conferences."


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