Cablegate: Facebook Activist Released
DE RUEHEG #0862 1151539
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 241539Z APR 08
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9063
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE
UNCLAS CAIRO 000862
NSC FOR PASCUAL
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV PHUM KDEM EG
SUBJECT: FACEBOOK ACTIVIST RELEASED
REF: CAIRO 730
Sensitive but unclassified. Not for Internet distribution.
1. (SBU) Israa Abdel Fattah, a young Ghad party member
detained since April 6 for allegedly inciting a general
strike on the same day, was released the evening of April 23.
Abdel Fattah was reportedly ordered released on April 14 by
the Public Prosecutor, but was kept in "protective custody"
by the Ministry of Interior until April 23, when the
government news agency announced that Minister of Interior
Habib Al Adli ordered her release on humanitarian grounds.
She originally called for the April 6 strike on the internet
social networking site Facebook (reftel), and the Facebook
group she launched attracted almost 70,000 members.
2. (SBU) Following her release, Abdel Fattah appeared on two
evening TV talk shows, where she apologized "for what I did,"
and said that she does not support and will not participate
in a general strike planned for May 4, or any future such
initiatives. (Note: Facebook activists are calling for this
strike to protest against rising prices, symbolically held on
President Mubarak's eightieth birthday. The Facebook group
devoted to the strike has over 20,000 members thus far. End
note). Abdel Fattah noted that she hoped to depart Cairo on
April 24 for the umra pilgrimage to Mecca. She also urged
the authorities to release "the other 21 youth who are still
imprisoned on charges of participation in the April 6
strike." In response to a question as to whether she would
check her Facebook account anytime soon, she replied, "I
don't think so."
3. (SBU) We have as yet not been successful in our efforts to
contact Abdel Fattah's lawyer. Thus, it remains unclear to
us whether the charges against Abdel Fattah were dropped, or
whether she may still face trial.
4. (SBU) Comment: By detaining Abdel Fattah for two and a
half weeks, and allowing her chastened appearance on TV so
soon after her release, the Egyptian authorities are clearly
sending a warning message to other young on-line activists
that their virtual activities can have all to real
consequences. It remains to be seen whether Abdel Fattah's
experience casts a measurable chill over the burgeoning
online activist community.