Sandmonkey, the well-known Arab blogger who recently announced an end to his blogging, may have been the most deliciously irreverent voice in the entire blogosphere. A 26-year old Egyptian, he went to college in Massachusetts, where he cultivated fluency not only in the American tongue but also in the folkways of global youth culture. (His moniker is a pejorative term for Arab, he explained to me when I first met him, amazed that I didn’t know it. Brandishing it was typical of his in-your-face style.)
Sandmonkey reveled in freedom; back in Egypt, he behaved as if he were free, almost. With the help of the Internet he spoke his mind pseudonymously, but with breathtaking audacity. His website, for instance, appealed for financial contributions by asking readers to “Support the Neo-con American Right-wing Zionist Christian Imperialist Conspiracy in the Middle-east!”
Here is Sandmonkey on constitutional reform in Egypt:
Mubarak is mulling a constitutional change in the amendment concerning presidential elections. The aim, they say, is to make it easier for candidates to run for President. The Sandmonkey sources have informed him that the proposed changes consist of 2 amendments:
1) The Presidential candidate has to be called Gamal Mohamed Hosny Mubarak.
2) His father has to be the current President of Egypt.
Anyone who those two conditions apply to is free to run in our next totally democratic elections.
When a package of 35 amendments was rammed through the Egyptian People’s Assembly and then put to a snap referendum, most of the opposition (and more than 90 percent of the population) refused to take part. But Sandmonkey took a different tack:
Let’s say that your country is having a fake referendum, one where you know that the dead will show up miraculously and vote Yes for whatever shit Mubarak suggests, thus making your vote for no entirely useless. So, what do you do? Well, you could either boycott the vote, go and vote no, or go and vote no a couple of times in order to level the playing field a little. You figure if they cheat, you should cheat too. Fight fire with fire and all. But how would you do that exactly?
You vote No, put in your vote, and then dip your finger in the “unwashable” and “unremoveable” voting Ink. You go to a Pharmacy, get nail-polish remover, and remove the voting ink.
Then Sandmonkey went to a different polling station and voted “no” again, and then repeated the procedure, altogether casting three votes against the amendments and in the process demonstrating the porousness of Egypt’s barriers against election fraud.
Sandmonkey also blogged tirelessly through last summer’s war in Lebanon, hurling verbal brickbats at Hezbollah and Israel alike, but always reserving some barbs for Egypt. In one post, he wrote:
A couple of days ago I was speaking with Lisa [an Israeli blogger], and she was telling me how depressed she was after seeing an Israeli refugee camp for people escaping the North. I decided to check her flickr account to see the pictures of how an Israeli refugee camp looks like, and she was right, it depressed the hell out of me. Although, the cause of both of our depressions wasn’t the same. The arab readers will know exactly what I mean.
A series of six photos of the camp’s living quarters, common area, and dining facility followed, then below it, Sandmonkey’s punchline:
That’s their refugee camps. I swear to god I could sell this as a tourist destination and egyptian tourists would go. The first 2 weeks would get fully booked . . . in 5 minutes. Crap!
The usual excuse of the Egyptian government for its repressions is the threat posed by the Muslim Brotherhood. But the regime itself is far friendlier to the Brotherhood than is Sandmonkey, who often referred to Islamists as “jihady fucks” and whose blog roll gave pride of place to like-minded members of what he called the “anti-jihady club.”
Now the Egyptian government has begun imprisoning bloggers, a measure that even the Saudi government has not taken. As a result of participating in demonstrations, Sandmonkey believes his identity has been compromised. The mukhabarat has been asking neighbors about him. So Sandmonkey announced that he is going to stop blogging and organize a committee to defend bloggers. I wish him success in this endeavor. But most of all I wish to hear his iconoclastic voice again, soon, from Egypt, in his own name and without fear of arrest.
* Correction: My broadside on contentions against Frances Ricciardone, the U.S. ambassador to Egypt, referred to “recent” comments of his about Copts and press freedom. I quoted a transcript from an interview he gave on March 16. What I missed, however, was that the interview was in 2006, not 2007. Downplaying the mistreatment of Copts was no less wrong in 2006 than it is in 2007. But the trend in press freedom is worse now than it was then, as Sandmonkey’s case exemplifies, so my criticism of Ricciardone’s words on that subject as being particularly untimely was misplaced. I apologize to him and to readers.