It's nice to see everyone raising their voices to protest the sentencing of Egyptian blogger Abdel Karim Nabeel to four years in prison. International criticism of escalating Egyptian repression can only be good, whether the criticism is official or NGO or public. I add my voice to those who call for a revisiting of the verdict and for his release from prison.
At the same time, I can't help but note that Nabeel is far from the only political activist in Egyptian jails right now. The Egyptian regime is engaging in an unprecedented crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. Hundreds of its members have been arrested and referred to the notorious state security courts, their businesses closed down and their bank accounts frozen, without even a trace of due process. Some Muslim Brothers are even bloggers, if that's what it takes to get people to care. Because not many people seem to.
This selective outrage, where Westerners care about one anti-Islamist blogger but can't be bothered about equally arbitrary and illiberal repression of hundreds of Islamists, only reinforces general skepticism that this isn't really about freedom, human rights, or democracy. It's just like the American focus on the release of jailed liberal politician Ayman Nour as a litmus test for the Egyptian regime (one which it continues to fail, by the way, without seeming to suffer the slightest penalty). I can not exaggerate how many times I hear from Arabs and Muslims that America's campaign against Hamas after it won fair elections and its blind eye to Mubarak's campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood proves once and for all the fundamental hypocrisy of its democracy talk. I am not criticizing anyone for rallying to Nabeel's or Nour's defense. They should. But they should also see this as part of a comprehensive regime crackdown on Egyptian political opposition, with the attack on the Muslim Brotherhood the leading edge of the regime's anti-democratic backlash. People who claim to care about Egyptian reform, democratization, and human rights should take a slightly wider view of the problem than the travails of one anti-Islamist blogger or one liberal politician.