Rizky Business

They are trying to silence the voices that criticize the [Egyptian] government’s performance and send a message by assaulting and kidnapping, to say that criticism will not be tolerated.

— Gamal Eid, executive director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information on the recent spate of blogger arrests in Egypt.

Philip Rizk wasn’t “unlucky” or at “the wrong place at the wrong time.” Instead, he found himself quite the deliberate target of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s regime.

On Feb. 6, the 26-year-old German-Egyptian blogger and filmmaker took part in a march with fellow activists belonging to the group “To Gaza,” an organization under the umbrella of the Gaza Popular Committee in Solidarity with the Palestinian People.

Rizk and 14 others held the six-mile march in Qalyubiya governate, a rural area north of Cairo. Their purpose was to draw attention to, and raise awareness of, the terrible humanitarian situation in Gaza under the Israeli embargo and subsequent attack. They also protested Mubarak’s order to keep the vital Rafah border crossing with Gaza closed and demanded an immediate end to the blockade of the territory.

A graduate student at the American University of Cairo, Rizk had previously spent two years living in Gaza and made a documentary film of life there. He also ran the Tabula Gaza blog, where he was critical of both Egyptian and Israeli policies toward Palestinians.

On their way back to Cairo from Qalyubiya, all 15 activists were stopped and detained by Egyptian State Security officers. They were arrested and then released. Except Philip Rizk. He was taken out the back door of the police station and whisked away in an unmarked van.

Like so many others in Egypt who dare to speak out, Rizk simply disappeared.

An intense campaign by family, friends, colleagues and human rights groups ensued. A website and Facebook group set up in his name rallied support in calling for his immediate release. Five days later, Rizk was unceremoniously dropped off at his apartment. No criminal charges were ever filed.

Rizk told reporters he had been held in solitary confinement, blindfolded and handcuffed. During interrogation, he was alternately accused of being an Israeli spy and a gun-runner for Hamas and was subjected to psychological abuse, but not physically harmed. While in custody, his apartment was broken into and his computer, hard drives, digital and video cameras, film, phones, and documents confiscated. His blog was also taken down.

Rizk spent little time talking about himself though. He preferred the media’s attention be focused on the fate of other Egyptian bloggers imprisoned or who had simply disappeared, mentioning Diaa Eddin Gad in particular.

Gad is a 23-year-old blogger who also had taken part in a peaceful demonstration in support of Palestinians in Gaza, and ran the Sout Gadeb or An Angry Voice blog (in it, he described Mubarak as a “Zionist agent”). The same day Rizk was arrested in Qalyubiya, four security men jumped Gad outside his family’s apartment and arrested him. Today, his whereabouts are unknown and he has not been heard from since.

In addition, Egyptian military tribunals this month sentenced Ahmed Douma and Ahmed Kamal to one year in prison for “illegally” crossing into Gaza during the Israeli invasion and blogging from there.

As one might surmise, Egypt still operates under Emergency Law, which it has been under since 1981. For 27 years, these laws have afforded Mubarak and his State Security officers the ability to arrest and detain any citizen without warrant or charge for an indefinite period of time. They restrict both freedom of speech and assembly. Amnesty International estimates that there are approximately 18,000 political prisoners being held in Egypt under the provisions of Emergency Law.

If the Gaza war accomplished anything, it was to bring many longstanding Middle East realities to full light. These include the savage extent to which the Israeli government will go to crush resistance to occupation and Palestinian aspirations to form a state independent of their dictates; the successful fracture and dissolution of the Palestinian leadership; Mahmoud Abbas’ utter lack of credibility and integrity; the marked political divisions between the Arab states opposed to, and those that tacitly approved of (or were complicit in) the Israeli invasion of Gaza; and the complete failure of the Arab League as an effective institution.

Even more evident was the disconnect between rulers and the ruled. Specifically, the hypersensitivity of the Mubarak government to not just criticism of its policy keeping the Rafah border closed, but to any public expression of sympathy or support for Gaza.

While Israel has ended its war (for now), Mubarak’s is ongoing. As is true for all dictators, it is one constantly waged against the people.

Rannie Amiri is an independent Middle East commentator. He may be reached at: rbamiri AT yahoo DOT com. Read other articles by Rannie, or visit Rannie's website.

10 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. MrCynic3 said on February 16th, 2009 at 11:10am #


    What is the Egypptian government can do if the only super power in the world is supporting Israel 100%. The economic situation for most of the Egyptians is depressing and Egypt is in dire need for every penny in trade , tourism and foreign investments. Yes, the situation of the Palestinian people in Gaza is tragic and the Israeli criminality is glaring but Egypt cannot afford a confrontation with Israel and consequently a confrontation with the United States. That also means that Egypt have
    to cancel the peace treaty with Israel which will be unwise move by
    So, please give the Egyptian governmnent a break and try to understand its position.
    Also, please direct your anger and pontifications to your government, e.g the Israeli government. You are an Israeli? Right?!!

  2. Emma said on February 16th, 2009 at 12:09pm #

    Cynic, I find your comments very insensitive and pathetic! Why do you think that the Egyptian Government cannot do more? Surely, for a country that has a population of 80m people and a vast army, you can at least muster enough self-respect to stand up agains an illegal and obscene war waged by Israel against your fellow muslim and Arab brothers and sisters. You could at least have criticised Israel and opened the borders. Or Honestly, the stupidity and shamelessness of people like you attacking a conscientious and truth-speaking writer like Rannie.

    Yare you an Israeli supporter living in Egypt? Right!

  3. Barry said on February 16th, 2009 at 12:27pm #

    If it were up to the Egyptian people, Egypt’s policies would favor a free and intact Palestine. Alas, Mubarak and the Egyptian State apparatus are handsomely bribed (with the stick of punishment waving just out of view) to hush up on Palestine and to knuckle under to Israeli dictates. There is no reason to feel sorry for the Egyptian state. Egyptians will be much better off when they escape from under the confines of US ‘aid.’

  4. Max Shields said on February 16th, 2009 at 1:15pm #

    The Egymptian state get a couple of billion dollars annually from the US to shut up while the people in Gaza are bombarded by US missles fired by Israeli military.

  5. Emma said on February 16th, 2009 at 2:05pm #

    Hey Cynic, I also wonder if you have ever thought why there is such poverty in Egypt that it is forced to sell its sould to get the US dollars. Could it be to do with the imposed dictatorship of Mubarak for the last 20 years and the support that America gives it that the people of Egypt have not been able to rise above the poverty line. Right?

  6. MrCynic3 said on February 16th, 2009 at 4:26pm #


    Did you read my post CAREFULLY? It is obvious from my writing I hate Israel and the injustice it represents. No, I don’t live in Egypt but I am very familiar of life there. Bread- lines is a daily occurence in all of Egypt, and this before the current world-wide economic slump. Unemployment among young peoples including college graduates is
    almost 40%.
    Are you familia with Egypt? Did you visit it recently.
    It there is a beating in a crowded street, why you shame a weak bystander
    for not intervening while all the strong poeple standing aroung supporting the aggressor or doing nothing

  7. MrCynic3 said on February 16th, 2009 at 4:47pm #


    Did you read my post CAREFULLY? It is obvious from my writing I hate Israel and the injustice it represents. No, I don’t live in Egypt but I am very familiar with life there.
    Are you familiar with life there? Did you visit Egypt recently?
    Bread-lines are a daily occurences in Egypt and unemployment among
    young adults including college graduates is almost 40%.
    You are like someone who is witnessing a beating in a crowded street
    and then shaming a weak bystander for not intervening while all the strong people around are either supporting the aggressor or doing nothing!!
    With the backing Israel is getting , do you want Egypt to declare war
    on Israel? Do you know what that mean? Please don’t allow your emotions and anger to cloud you good judgement and commonsense.
    Egypt is doing the best it can through dimplomacy and allowing the
    wounded in Egypt and sending medical supplies to Gaza.
    Please read my original post carefully and try to put yourself in the Egyptian government shoe.
    I know it is depressing situation but who said life is fair?

  8. Ghassan said on February 17th, 2009 at 4:46am #

    The Egyptian leadership is simply corrupt. This is part of the bargain with the devil that “third world” leaders have to execute in exchange for their seats, simple.
    The Egyptian government has engaged in treason against its own people, what do you expect of them towards the Palestinians..!?

  9. Emma said on February 17th, 2009 at 3:05pm #

    Dear Cynic,

    Apologies if I came a bit harsh on you. You are right, the plight of the Gazans is infuriating me. Whilst I agree with you that it would be foolish to take on an enemy much stronger than you, I still do not think that Egypt is right in arresting peaceful demonstrations of its own citizens. And this is only because Mubarak is a dictator backed up by USA who will not allow any dissent beacuse he fears losing his own grip. I feel for the people of Egypt, who mostly are good people and feel the injustice inflicted on Palestine. But any voices they raise are brutally crushed by Mubarak and his secret service.

    I guess his dictatorship must also be playing a big role in the economic hardship of this country. A country that has a large educated middle class should not be facing such hardship.Why is it unable to set up industries, export and be self-sufficeint instead of having to rely on US aid. How degrading and shameful for a county to be taking aid in return for compromising its values. God help anyone who takes AMerican aid!

    Why can Egypt not follow in the footsteps of such countries as India? India imports very little and now has a strong software industry as well as a thriving pharmaceutical industry. India also manufactures its own military equpment and has even made a nuclear bomb. Why cannot Egypt, or for that matter, any of the remaining Arab countries achieve the same? What is stopping them? God has made all people equal, and so it is up to us to wake up and use our talents wisely and for the right purposes. Unfortunately, it seems that Muslims all over the world are lagging and are having to pay a tragic price for it.

  10. MrCynic3 said on February 18th, 2009 at 3:14am #

    Dear Emma,

    My support for the people of Gaza is based on my support for what is
    right and fair and against brutality and in injustice. It is not based on
    any religious thinking or feelings. I am an atheist who was born into a Christian family.
    Hamas in its beginning was nutured and helped by Israel and the
    West as a counter balance againt the national and secular Palestinian
    resistance headed by the late Yasser Arafat. This is the classic divide and rule. Hamas is an offspring of the Moslem Brotherhood of Egypt which was also in its beginning was helped by the British occupiers as a counter balance against a national and secular resistance movement
    against the British. It is again the classic divide and rule with the added
    bonus that religious movements, most of the time, tend to be backward
    and not forward looking and delay and hinder any modernization and
    Egypt has a fairly good industries and more is being built but unfortunately this is not enough to support a population of nearly
    80 millions crowded in a narrow river valley with only about 6
    million acres cutivatable land. Egypt is in serious need of birth control
    but this against religion both Moslem and Christian!!! Both religions
    still have great harmful influence on the people thinking there.
    India is a poor example to follow. It has abject poverty and lack of
    social cohesion. It has serious environmental problems and severe
    water shortages. And yes, too much harmful religious influence s and
    a resurgent fanatic hindu religious movement. Thousands of farmers
    commit suicide each year and no one is giving a damn.