Prior to his expulsion and detention, Kareem was not widely known outside of a small circle (although the Coptic community did publicize his writings). His case is now known all over the world. That is mainly due to the efforts of a group of young bloggers who met Kareem at a conference co‐sponsored by the Cato Institute and the Hands Across the Middle East Support Alliance (HAMSA).
After the conference, Abdelkareem kept in touch with me by means of Gmail chat. I would frequently log on in the morning to find a little window open up with the greeting, “Good morning, Dr. Tom! How are you?” Several times I admonished him to be careful, that it may be better to live to fight another day, and so on. His response was always a variation of the same theme: “No one can make me stop writing what I believe to be true.” He did once promise that he would think about my advice.
In October I was in Tbilisi for a Cato Institute conference and got my usual instant message of “Hello, Dr. Tom.” I asked how he was, and he told me that was worried, because he had been told to go the next day to the prosecutor’s office. I asked him if he had informed anyone else. “No. Just you.” I said that wouldn’t do and he had to send e‐mails right now to all of the people from our conference, to other friends, and to anyone who should know. I immediately shot off text messages and e‐mails. Several people immediately stepped up to defend Abdelkareem. Dalia arranged for him to have a lawyer go with him to the prosecutor’s office. He went with the lawyer, but the lawyer left the prosecutor’s office alone. Abdelkareem was detained, “pending investigation of his case,” a phrase that was repeated over and over. He was never let free.
As news of his detention came out, other people from the conference stepped up. Esraa, who is behind www.Mideastyouth.com, set up a website dedicated to Abdelkareem’s case: www.FreeKareem.org. She and a few friends began to gather information about the case and post it on the site. I blogged about the case and informed Andrew Sullivan, Johann Norberg, and others, who also posted on the case. HAMSA and PetitionOnline.com set up online petitions (now at over 8,000 signatures), and Jesse Sage of HAMSA and Dalia published an article in the International Herald Tribune. Esraa and some others in Bahrain organized a public protest in Abdelkareem’s behalf. A former Cato Institute intern, Constantino Diaz‐Duran, wrote about it in the Columbia Spectator, and with another former Cato‐ite, Chris Kilmer, he organized a rally in New York, as did Cato interns and other young libertarians in Washington. Another former Cato intern (Andrew Perraut) organized an event in London, and then libertarians in other cities followed suit (Paris, organized by Vincent Ginocchio of Liberte Cherie; Rome, organized by Alberto Mingardi of the Instituto Bruno Leoni; and Stockholm, organized by Jonas Virdalm and attended by Johan Norberg, who also spoke at the conference where we met Abdelkareem; and elsewhere). Jesse Sage arranged a letter from members of the U.S. Congress; Alberto arranged letters from members of the Italian parliament; and others mobilized diplomatic pressure from their governments. With Raja Kamal of the University of Chicago, I published op‐eds on the case in the Washington Post and the Lebanon Daily Star. (The Post article has been distributed in Arabic through Cato’s Arabic Lamp of Liberty.) While the better known organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International issued much‐appreciated statements, the agitation and publicity was mainly organized by a loose network of classical liberal/libertarian activists and writers.
Most important have been the Muslim Arabs who have stepped forward to defend Kareem, embracing his cause of freedom even as they reject his strong criticism of their religion. Dalia and Esraa and the people they have mobilized (including Mohammed and Lalith, the web administrators for the FreeKareem.org site) are pious and observant Muslims who are bravely standing up against extremists. They are standing up proudly for freedom of speech, and not because they agree with all of what Abdelkareem said, for they strongly disagree with much of it. As they wrote on the FreeKareem site,