Smackdown against Facebook activists in Egypt

Police charge "Facebook youth" with attempt to bring down the regime as several hundred "cyber" friends gather for first time in person.

Charles Cooper Former Executive Editor / News
Charles Cooper was an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet.
Charles Cooper
2 min read

In a kulturkampf between old and new, several hundred youthful Facebook activists are increasingly under pressure from Egyptian authorities.

Earlier in the year, a group of young Egyptians used Facebook to organize support for a strike by textile workers on April 6. To put it mildly, Egypt's authoritarian government did not welcome this extension of civil society into cyberspace.

They liked it even less when the so-called 6 April Youth Movement, as they call themselves, met for the first time in late June at a Cairo gathering where they were feted by the local journalists' syndicate.

In their speeches, the young men and women expressed their dreams for their country calling for collective brainstorming to decide on their next step.
The idea of forming a new political youth movement was blessed by some representatives of the older generation who attended the meeting, such as George Ishaq Kefaya founder and former coordinator, judge Hisham Bastawisi, deputy head of the Cassation Court, and MPs Anwar and Talaat El Sadat.

Reading that passage, I was reminded how first-time political activists in this country used Meetup.com and blogs to rally support for Howard Dean in the 2004 Democratic primaries. But open political discourse in Egypt--especially when critical of the regime--is more fraught.

Push came to shove last week. Some of the Facebook youth, as they're being called, rallied at a local beach in Alexandria to sing songs and fly kites (with the colors of the Egyptian flag) to celebrate the anniversary of the Egyptian revolution. That's when the authorities moved in and arrested them. Here's a video shot just before state security goons took them away.

Here's what Al-Ahram Weekly reported:

"A truck packed with Central Security personnel arrived and arrested 14 of the 30 demonstrators while the rest managed to flee," Gamal Eid, executive director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, who met the arrested group while in custody, told Al-Ahram Weekly. "They were beaten by plain clothes security personnel and taken to Al-Raml Police Station where they were referred to the prosecution which accused them of assembling, hampering traffic, and attempting to topple the regime." The arrested denied any links with political parties or the Muslim Brotherhood. "They told investigators that they did not advocate destructive ideas, let alone toppling the regime. They said they would not even incite people to stage a civil disobedience," says Eid."

Also, here's more on the same topic from Almasry Alyoum.