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Amid fear of crackdown Egypt blogger calls it quits

Written by: Staff
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CAIRO, May 3 (Reuters) A prominent blogger critical of Egypt's government has stopped writing due to fears he was under police surveillance, in a sign that a campaign by authorities to silence dissent is making critics more cautious.

The blogger, who wrote anonymously under the pen name Sandmonkey (http://sandmonkey.org), complained he had started hearing ''clicking noises'' on his phone that led him to believe he was being monitored, and feared he had become too reckless.

His departure sent a chill through Egypt's blogging community, which has emerged as a major forum for leftists and Islamists whose views are not typically represented in state-dominated media, analysts said.

''There has been too much heat around me lately,'' Sandmonkey wrote in a farewell post. ''I no longer believe that my anonymity is kept, especially with state security agents lurking around my street and asking questions about me.'' ''It took me a while to take note of the fear that has been gripping our little blogosphere and comprehend what it really means. The prospects for improvement ... look pretty grim.'' Sandmonkey's blog, written from a right-leaning pro-US viewpoint, had frequently criticised Egypt over a lack of democratic reforms but was also critical of opposition groups.

Sandmonkey said he was also disillusioned by the ''futility of being a keyboard warrior in a country where nothing seems to matter to its people anymore''.

LOWER PROFILE, BUT STILL GOING Analysts said some bloggers were now taking a lower profile in Egypt to avoid arrest, with some of the more outspoken Internet activists avoiding street protests and in some cases toning down provocative content on their blogs.

''While bloggers do continue to take risks and to express their opinions forcefully, over the past year many of them have become a little bit more cautious,'' said Elijah Zarwan, a Cairo-based consultant for Human Rights Watch.

''There is a sense here of a crackdown in progress, and a possibility it will get a lot worse.'' The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists named Egypt on Tuesday as one of the 10 worst countries for press freedom.

Leftist blogger Abdel-Karim Suleiman, the first to stand trial in Egypt for Internet writings, was jailed for four years in February for insulting Islam and President Hosni Mubarak in a case rights groups said was a setback for free speech.

Egypt has since arrested a prominent activist, blogger and journalist from the Muslim Brotherhood who was at the forefront of a campaign to release dozens of detained Brotherhood members.

Bloggers were also feeling pressure due to an ongoing lawsuit brought by an Egyptian judge to block 21 blogs and Web sites for harming the country's image.

But many bloggers were not cowed.

''The activist bloggers, the ones associated with either the the Islamist side with the Muslim Brotherhood or the leftist side with Kefaya, are pretty resolute. They are not going to stop,'' said independent analyst Issandr el-Amrani, who runs the Arabist blog, www.arabist.net.

''Many of them have already been arrested before. They know the drill,'' he said.

Reuters SZ GC0909

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