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Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Dissident Egyptian Blogger\'s Visit to Israel

Maikel Nabil, an Egyptian blogger who was jailed for eight months last year by Egypt's military for expressing his views on politics and religion, began a tour of Israel this week.

In a post on his blog, Mr. Nabil, 26, called his trip, which is sponsored by an arm of an American Jewish group, the culmination of “years of calling for peace.”

Mr. Nabil's detention in Egypt last year became an international cause célèbre after he was given a harsh sentence for criticizing Egypt's military on his blog. In the post that offended the generals who ruled Egypt after Hosni Mubarak was forced from power, Mr. Nabil drew on his own experiences as a participant in the 2011 uprising as well as news media and human rights reports to argue that the military had tortured protesters and worked to undermine the revolution it claimed to support.

After a long campaign by Egyptian and international activists, Mr. Nabil was released in January, but public sympathy for him in Egypt was tempered by distaste for his political and religious views.

Mr. Nabil, who comes from a Christian background, is a strident atheist and has professed strong support for the state of Israel, positions that stand far outside the mainstream of Egyptian opinion. He left Egypt to live in Germany in May.

The blogger arrived in Israel on Thursday to begin a tour organized and paid for by U.N. Watch, a Geneva-based group affiliated with the American Jewish Congress, which describes U.N. Watch as its Geneva branch office. Hillel Neuer, the executive director of U.N. Watch, posted an update on Twitter advertising the group's role in Mr. Nabil's trip. He described Mr. Nabil as an “Egyptian hero of Tahrir Square and pro-Israel peace activist.”

During his visit, Mr. Nabil is scheduled to speak at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University and the World Union of Jewish Students. He also sat down for an interview on Israeli television and plans to visit Ramallah in the West Bank.

On the first day of his tour, Mr. Nabil visited some of Israel's most somber memorials, including the Isra eli Holocaust Memorial, Yad Vashem, and the grave of Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister who was assassinated after signing the Oslo Accords. He documented his time there in updates posted on Twitter.

Mr. Nabil also posted updates to Twitter that were sharply critical of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and what he called Israel's “racist government.” He also expressed his support for conscientious objectors who refuse to serve in the Israel Defense Forces.

In an essay posted on his blog in 2010, titled “Why Am I Pro-Israel?” Mr. Nabil wrote:

In reality, my support to Israel isn't a support to Israel itself more than it's a support for the values which the state of Israel represents in the region… Because the case in my view is that this is democratic and that is tyrannical, this is liberal and that is totalitarian… Therefore my bias to Israel is a bias to the democratic and the modernist values which the state of Israel represents - whether we like it or not - in the region.

He continued his outreach to Israelis at a particularly fraught time, in a YouTube video posted at the height of Egypt's 2011 Revolution, in which he called on his “Israeli friends” to support the uprising and reassured them that it was not an Islamic revolution.

In Feb. 2011, Mikael Nabil recorded a video calling for his “Israeli friends” to support the Egyptian Revolution

In an essay published this month by The Times of Israel, Mr. Nabil explained the reasons for his trip and compared himself with legendary peacemakers including Willy Brandt, Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, Martin Luther King Jr., King Abdullah I, Anwar Sadat and Mr. Rabin.

After years of calling for peace, I have realized that practicing peace is more important than talking. My visit is a message from the Egyptian peace community that we have had enough violence and confrontation and we want this to end. We want to live together as human beings without violence, racism or walls.

I'm aiming with my visit to end the monopoly which governments have over peace processes. Our governments held this portfo lio for decades, and obviously they have gone from one failure to the next.