Thursday, February 22, 2007

Jailhouse Blues

Today Al Jazeera reports that a twenty-two-year old Egyptian blogger has been sentenced to four years in prison, allegedly for insulting Islam and the longterm president of the country. Former law student Abdel Karim's crime was comparing U.S. ally Mubarak to a despotic ancient pharoh and descrying violence in Muslim-Christian clashes in Alexandria.

Pro-Western -- and frequently pro-conservative -- libertarian blogger Sandmonkey claims to have been present at the sentencing. Lately, the contrarian Sandmonkey seems to be getting in touch with his feminist side and has used column space in praising Amanda Marcotte and defending the rights of Iraqi rape victims.

The irony of today's sentencing is that this week the State Department's Undersecretary of Public Diplomacy, Karen Hughes, is boasting of a new program to use fluent Arabic speakers to correct "misinformation" in the work of bloggers in the Middle East. This entry of the Voice of America into the commentasphere seems pointless if basic civil liberties are not being respected in those countries.

In other public diplomacy news this week, The Wall Street Journal is reporting in "Public Diplomacy, TV Style" on a new reality show with three Arab men -- a Jordanian, an Egyptian, and a Saudi -- traveling throughout America. It sounds like their adventures in the heartland won't be of the more embarrassing Borat or Talking to Americans variety, since every comes off well and even manages to sometimes sit down for serious prejudice-airing conversations with pro-Israeli citizens.

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