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Egypt and Mill

April 13, 2011

Watch the following video:

Caption: In early February, Maikel Nabil Sanad, an Egyptian blogger who was jailed on Monday, posted this “Message to Israel Calling for Solidarity with the Egyptian Revolution.

“We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still.”- John Stuart Mill (600)

Reading through the New York Times the other day, I saw an interesting headline, “Egypt Sentences Blogger to 3 Years.”  Before even opening the article, I knew this topic would be perfectly applicable to the theories of John Stuart Mill. The article reads, “An Egyptian blogger was sentenced Monday to three years in prison for criticizing the military in what human rights advocates called one of the more alarming violations of freedom of expression since a popular uprising led to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak two months ago.”  The blogger’s name is Maikel Nabil, a 25-year-old man that criticized the Egyptian Armed Forces for continuing the corruption and anti-democratic practices of Mubarak.  The government of Egypt has used this arrest as a warning to all journalists in Egypt forbidding any criticism against the army.

As we have read, John Stuart Mill showcased a liberal defense of free speech in his work, “On Liberty.”  He defended the importance of freedom of discussion and debate in everyday life by claiming that free speech is of upmost importance in the pursuit of truth.  Different opinions and views challenge the established “truths” in society and either reinforce or discredit them.  Mill claimed that no opinions should be censored as he perpetuated what scholars referred to as a “marketplace of ideas.” Mill claimed that independent reason is valuable and should not be suppressed.

When Mill discusses whether or not people with controversial views should be able to act upon those views, he states that they may do so, as long as they are not a nuisance to others.  Mill claimed that the only speech that justifies prevention is that which promotes harm. If the actions of people who hold controversial viewpoints harm others, they should be considered a nuisance. Mill declared, “The liberty of the individual must be thus far limited; he must not make himself a nuisance to other people,”(620). It is important that people hold arguable viewpoints so they are exposed to different ideas, but classifying what actions would consider someone a nuisance determines whether or not he can act upon his views.

Should Nabil’s comments be considered nuisance? Was he inciting harm? Authorities claim that he blogged that Egypt’s army had tortured protesters and worked to undermine the anti-Mubarak revolution. He was promptly charged with “publishing false information” and “insulting the Armed Forces.”  But can his comments be categorized as a nuisance?  I think that his comments can be expressed under the freedom of speech and don’t harm the army in any way.  As long as he is reporting what he thinks is true, and not libelous, I don’t think his speech should be constituted as a nuisance.   He was acting according to his “own inclination and judgment.”  As Mill further asserted, human beings should be free to form opinions and to express opinions without reserve.

This act sets a bad precedence for the new government of Egypt. Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, claimed, “It’s pretty stunning in Egypt’s supposed new era of rights to see the military government prosecuting someone in a military court for writing about the military.”  Maybe the Egyptian government should look into the theories of John Stuart Mill for further advice?


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