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Anti-establishment in Egypt: the return of Ayman Nour

The one-time presidential candidate is among dissidents who won't be silenced, despite the government's efforts prior to 2011 elections.

While the Muslim Brotherhood has been around since before the founding of the Republic of Egypt, the government has had to start dealing with a new threat: bloggers.

The blogosphere in Egypt first became politicized on a massive scale in the wake of political unrest in 2005. Since then, their numbers have grown by the tens of thousands.

Unlike in some countries, the security forces, led by the Interior Ministry’s cyber crime division, don’t shut down websites critical of the government. They go after the writers.

“I would say this is the pattern,” said Hossam el-Hamalawy, one of Egypt’s most prominent bloggers. “It’s either phone up, threaten them, [or] stop them at the airport when they come. But we didn’t reach the level of, say, Tunisia,” where the government cracks down aggressively, banning people from the web or hacking their websites.

Many of these bloggers, though, are also street activists, protesting various government practices. It is in this context that many of them are arrested. El-Hamalawy is a socialist whose blog takes aim at the government’s labor practices. He says he was arrested and tortured in 2000 (before he started his blog) for tearing down the American flag that flew over the American University in Cairo. He has been arrested twice subsequently.

Part of the threat that bloggers pose to the government, he believes, is that they break stories of political or military abuse that conventional newspapers won’t.

He added that local print reporters have been known to feed controversial stories to bloggers so that they can report on the blog coverage instead of on the story itself.

Despite the crackdown, it’s remarkable that many of these political dissidents, who hail from all ends of the political spectrum, continue to lead life in the public eye.

El-Hamalawy serves as an editor at one of the country’s pre-eminent newspapers.

Al-Aryan works out of his office at the doctor’s syndicate in downtown.

Nour, who was unexpectedly released from jail early this year, has launched a grassroots political campaign called “Knocking on Doors.” As leader of the Ghad party, he goes door to door across the country, extolling the virtues of liberal democracy.

If his group tries to set up formal events, he says, security forces shut them down ahead of time. But they still let him go door to door and spread his message quietly.

“We can’t hold conferences,” he said. “We can’t own any newspapers or visual media. We are prevented from using any means of communications. The only right that they can’t prevent us from doing is our right to walk on our feet in the streets.”