It seems like every day there's another story about Arab political bloggers being arrested, harrassed, or shut down. In Egypt, Abd al-Monem Mahmoud draws attention to the early December arrest of Ahmed Mohassan ("Eyes Still Open"), whose blog has among other things reported police torture, and the harassment and arrests of other Egyptian bloggers. More attention has been given to popular Saudi blogger Fouad Farhan, whose arrest has had a chilling effect on the Saudi blogosphere. I'm glad that Farhan's arrest has received a great deal of international attention, and can only add my own support and hopes that he will soon be freed - and that the campaign will help to strengthen the hand of other bloggers around the world in the face of regime repression.
The campaigns which have sprung up in support of bloggers like Alaa Abd al-Fattah, Kareen Amer, and now Farhan aren't without problems, but are nevertheless absolutely essential. As with classic human rights campaigning, mobilizing international attention around a specific case is probably the best chance to both help the individuals in question and to protect other bloggers and activists from similar depredations. Not necessarily: one well-known Arab blogger who went through a similar ordeal told me that he might have been singled out because of his prominence, the better to send a message to others - and the more international attention, the more obstinate the regime might become in order to avoid looking like it is knuckling under to outside pressure.
But that's no reason not to campaign on the behalf of bloggers and activists facing state repression across the Arab world (and beyond). What's happening to Arab bloggers was entirely predictable: their increasing visibility and political influence (at home and abroad) drew the attention of security services, which began to push back and try to regain control. Mobilizing international attention is one of the few levers available for the bloggers and activists to push back in turn, and try to defend the open spaces for public discourse that they've begun to open. More power to them. At the least, sustained international attention might make security services think twice about whether it's worth going after the bloggers - even if it ultimately can't stop them from doing so. It's a start.