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In the Middle East, Facebook Stings

Samara Greenberg

Palestinian blogger Walid Husayin from Qalqiliya in the West Bank was arrested last week for posting anti-religion rants on the Internet. Over a period of several years, Husayin, now 26, allegedly posted arguments in favor of atheism on blogs, where he described the God of Islam as having the attributes of a “primitive Bedouin.” He is also accused of calling himself God, and saying that Islam is a “blind faith that grows and takes over people’s minds where there is irrationality and ignorance.”

Husayin, caught in a “Facebook sting,” now faces life in prison on heresy charges for “insulting the divine essence.” Many townsmen say he should be killed for renouncing Islam, and even family members want him to be put behind bars for life.

Palestinian boys use social networking sites in West Bank Internet cafes.

While social networking sites have been popular among Middle Easterners for some time now, they are becoming even more popular among the authorities who are jumping on the opportunity to use the sites to crack down on anti-government activists. In February 2007, Egypt charged blogger Kareem Amer with atheism and sentenced him to four years in prison. This summer, Lebanon arrested four people for slandering President Michel Suleiman on Facebook. In the Palestinian Territories, both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are known to create fake Facebook profiles to ‘friend’ and monitor their dissidents. And the list goes on.

It’s no surprise that Middle Eastern regimes are using social media to crack-down on citizens who speak out against the government and religion, or bring together like-minded activists, with such sites. Perhaps slightly more surprising, however, is how little Western governments have done to support such brave individuals, essentially condoning the Middle Eastern authorities’ actions. As new Internet technology spreads and enters even the world’s most strict regimes, the U.S. and her allies should begin using the tools to support those activists willing to risk their lives to speak their opinion.