Egypt frees pro-Israel blogger after 10 months

Amnesty report finds few Egyptian parties willing to commit to freedom of religion, women's rights.

Maikel Nabil 311  (photo credit: Courtesy)
Maikel Nabil 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A pro-Israel Egyptian blogger has been freed after nearly 10 months in prison for defaming the military, his brother said Tuesday.
Maikel Nabil was pardoned last week along with nearly 2,000 other Egyptians convicted in military courts since president Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow in February. On Tuesday, the head of the ruling military council said a three-decade-old state of emergency would be lifted “except in certain cases” in a further sign the army is buckling to widespread pressure to shift Egypt to civilian control.
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Nabil’s brother, Mark, tweeted a photo of the blogger, taken shortly after his release, making a “V” sign for victory.
“Forgive us guys, but Maikel is tired and can’t take phone calls,” his brother told followers on the social media site, saying the blogger felt slightly ill and would be taken home to rest. Nabil was said to have been on a hunger strike for months to protest his treatment by military authorities and in prison.
The 26-year-old was detained March 30 and 11 days later was sentenced by a military court to three years in prison for “insulting the military” and “spreading false information.” To supporters, Nabil represented the first of thousands of prisoners of conscience tried by military courts over the past year. To opponents, however, he is an enemy of the state not only for his remarks against the military but also for calling for normalization with Israel.
In late 2010 Nabil wrote in his blog he would refuse to serve out his compulsory military service if doing so meant he would have to point a gun at Israeli soldiers carrying out their own mandatory service.
In February he posted a video clip pleading with Israelis to support the movement to oust Mubarak.
“I’m calling for solidarity from my Israeli friends with the Egyptian revolution. I believe that democracy and human rights and women’s rights are basic Israeli values,” he said. Three days before his arrest Nabil wrote he had been trying to get an Israeli visa for months but had been refused.
Nabil’s supporters – even those who oppose normalization with the Jewish state – say his support for Israel made the blogger an easy target for the military.
Presidential elections are scheduled for June, but many Egyptians fear the military will do everything in its power to retain the nearimmunity it enjoyed for nearly six decades. They want assurances from the army that it will return to the barracks and allow for a full transfer to civilian rule.
On Tuesday, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi said in a televised address that Egypt’s state of emergency would be lifted, except in unspecified cases of “thuggery.”
At least one lawmaker said the move did not go far enough.
“This is not a real cancellation of the state of emergency,” said Essam Sultan, a newly elected member of parliament from the Wasat Party, an Islamist group.
“The proper law designates the ending of the state of emergency completely or enforcing it completely, nothing in between.”
The liberal youth who led last year’s anti-Mubarak revolution now feel threatened not only by the military, but by Islamist movements who were the primary beneficiaries of parliamentary elections held over the last few months.
Amnesty International released a damning report Tuesday revealing that most of the country’s main political parties have hedged or flatly refused to sign a human rights manifesto the nonprofit group circulated in November.
The London-based organization wrote to 54 parties asking them to sign on to the 10-point document, which included calls for guarantees on freedom of religion, women’s rights, aid to the poor and abolition of the death penalty.
The only parties to sign up to all of the document’s provisions, it said, were the Egyptian Social Democratic Party – a member of the liberal Egyptian Bloc – and the leftist Popular Socialist Alliance Party.
It said the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, the biggest winner in parliamentary elections, failed to issue a substantive response. Al- Nour, a hardline Salafist movement that came in second at the polls, agreed orally to all pledges with the exception of the abolition of the death penalty and protection of women’s rights.
“With the first session of the new parliament sitting this week, it is encouraging that so many of the major parties engaged with us and were prepared to sign up to ambitious pledges for change on combating torture, protecting slum residents’ rights and ensuring fair trials,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s interim Middle East and North Africa director. “But it is disturbing that a number of parties refused to commit to equal rights for women. With a handful of women taking up seats in the new parliament, there remain huge obstacles to women playing a full role in Egyptian political life.
“We challenge the new parliament to use the opportunity of drafting the new constitution to guarantee all of these rights for all people in Egypt. The cornerstone must be non-discrimination and gender equality,” he said.
Nearly all of the 12 parties that responded agreed to all of the first seven points of the manifesto, including commitments on civil and political rights, ending the state of emergency, combating torture, upholding freedom of expression and association, ensuring fair trials and investigating abuses committed under Mubarak.
Amnesty also secured pledges from nearly all parties to address the rights of the poor and to deliver economic, social and cultural rights for all. The eighth pledge, to end discrimination, was agreed to by most parties but several said they could not sign on to an end to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. At least two parties said the issue of discrimination against Coptic Christians, including limitations against building churches, has been exaggerated.
A number of parties expressed reservations over the pledge to uphold women’s rights, which included granting equal rights in marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance. Several parties invoked Islamic law to explain why they could not agree to the provisions.
Most parties expressed reservations over the final point calling for the abolition of the death penalty, either stating that it was in contradiction to Islam or that they were continuing to study the issue.
Reuters contributed to this report.