Reuters, the LA Times, and the International Herald Tribune report that Egyptian state security police detained blogger Philip Rizk on Friday night, when he was returning to Cairo after a march to raise awareness about conditions in the Gaza Strip. Rizk is a graduate student in the Middle East Studies program at the American University in Cairo, a political activist, and documentary filmmaker, and he blogs about Palestinian issues on his blog tabula gaza.
The authorities are holding Philip without formal charge, a common practice in the Egyptian state security system. His whereabouts were completely unknown until Sunday night, when friends and supporters were able to determine that he was being held in state security headquarters in downtown Cairo. Egyptian state security police are notorious for torturing detainees during interrogation.
Although the authorities arrested Philip on his way back from a political rally, this may not have been the key motivation for his detention. According to the Herald Tribune, the police did not detain his fellow protestors and targeted Rizk by name when they pulled over his minibus. One suspects that Rizk's blogging may have made him a target:
Rizk contributed to a blog about the Gaza Strip that includes recent postings about the 22-day Israeli military offensive against the territory's Hamas rulers. Some of the postings criticized the Egyptian government's response, accusing it of allowing only small numbers of injured Palestinians to cross into Egypt for medical treatment. (IHT)
The Egyptian government is particularly sensitive to criticism on this point. The majority of Egyptians undoubtedly support and sympathize with the Palestinians who face of a terrible humanitarian crisis, while Mubarak's regime fears that opening the Egyptian border will ease the pressure on Hamas, which controls Gaza. (Why Mubarak opposes Hamas is a long story, but the short explanation is that Islamist governments make him nervous.)
Rizk holds dual Egyptian-German citizenship. Both the German embassy and AUC officials are working to clarify the situation, according to the Herald Tribune. Philip's parents filed a complaint with the prosecutor’s office in downtown Cairo yesterday. See the facebook page, Support and Prayer for the Safe Release of Philip Rizk, for updates and information about how to help.
2/11/09 Update: The BBC reports that Egyptian authorities have freed Philip Rizk.