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Cablegate: Egypt Arrests Facebook Activists

VZCZCXYZ0011
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHEG #1581 2100818
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 280818Z JUL 08
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9939
INFO RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC

UNCLAS CAIRO 001581

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

NSC STAFF FOR PASCUAL

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PGOV KDEM EG
SUBJECT: EGYPT ARRESTS FACEBOOK ACTIVISTS

REF: A. CAIRO 730
B. CAIRO 930

1.(SBU) On July 23, Egyptian security forces in Alexandria
arrested 26 members of a Facebook social networking group
known as the "6th of April Youth." Fourteen of the activists
were briefly jailed and, according to the East Alexandria
Attorney General, are under investigation on charges that
they "caused a public disturbance" and "disrupted traffic in
an attempt to stage street riots." Charges against them also
include "possession of publications aiming to spread rumors
and subversive ideas among Egyptians." According to press
reports, police arrested 14 of the detainees while they were
walking on the streets of Alexandria "singing nationalist
songs" in an ad hoc demonstration on the occasion of Egypt's
1952 "revolution." Police arrested the 12 others separately.

2.(SBU) According to press reports and our contacts, on July
27 the Alexandria Appeals Court ordered the release of the
fourteen jailed activists. However, as of mid-morning on
July 28, the fourteen detainees remain in custody. The GoE
could potentially appeal the release order or, if the
activists are freed, re-arrest them under Egypt's Emergency
Law.

3.(SBU) The Facebook group first gained attention when it
called for a national strike in April in support of striking
textile workers in the Nile Delta city of Mahalla. The call
for the strike led to the April arrest of one of the group's
leaders, Israa Abdel Fattah, who was released without charges
after seventeen days in custody (ref A). The group also
called for a May 4 strike to protest rising food prices (ref
B). Among those reportedly arrested on July 23 was Ahmed
Maher Ibrahim, one of the founders of the group, whom
Egyptian authorities briefly detained in May. The Washington
Post profiled Ibrahim in a May 18 article.

4.(SBU) On July 27, we raised the arrests and expressed our
concern to the Deputy Assistant Foreign Minister for Human
Rights, who said that although he was aware of the arrests,
and had learned from Egypt's embassy in Washington of the
extensive media attention the arrests are attracting, the
Ministry was still gathering information and had no comment.
He said he hoped the MFA would have a response to our inquiry
later in the week.

5.(SBU) Comment: The arrest and brief detention of the
twenty-six activists is a worrisome indicator that the GoE's
tolerance for political activities on websites such as
Facebook apparently continues to diminish. We will continue
to track the status of the jailed activists who were ordered
released.
SCOBEY

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