Egyptian court refuses bail for blogger accused of insulting Islam  

Associated Press CAIRO, Egypt -

A court Thursday refused to release on bail a writer accused of insulting Islam and causing sectarian strife in postings on his Web journal in Egypt's first prosecution of blogger. 

Abdel Kareem Nabil, 22, who has been in detention since his arrest in November, denounced Islamic authorities and criticized President Hosni Mubarak on his Arabic-language blog. He faces up to nine years in prison if convicted. 

The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights called on human rights groups to "pressure the government to drop charges against (Nabil) as a prisoner of conscience."     

Two U.S. congressmen also expressed deep concern about the arrest of Nabil - who also goes by the blogger name of Kareem Amer - and called for the charges to be dropped. "The Egyptian government's arrest of Mr. Amer simply for displeasure over writings on the personal Web log raises serious concern about the level of respect for freedoms in Egypt," Reps. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., and Barney Frank, D-Mass., wrote to U.S. Ambassador Nabil Fahmy. The Bush administration has not commented on Nabil's trial, despite its past criticism of the arrests of Egyptian rights activists. 

In 2005, the Bush administration made Egypt - which Mubarak has ruled unquestioned for a quarter century - the centerpiece of its policy of promoting democratic change in the Arab world. But Egyptian reformers say Washington has all but dropped its pressure on Mubarak amid a need for his support on Iraq and in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The United States was also alarmed when Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood made big gains in 2005 parliamentary elections and the radical Hamas movement won 2006 Palestinian elections - raising fears that greater democracy would increase fundamentalists' power, activists say. Nabil, whose trial began Jan. 18, has been charged with inciting sedition, insulting Islam, harming national unity and insulting the president. 

In Thursday's session, his lawyers requested he be released on bail during the trial, but the court rejected the motion, Nabil's lawyer Ahmed Seif el-Islam said. In his Web log, Nabil was a critic of conservative Muslims and in particularly of al-Azhar University, one of the most prestigious religious institutions in the Sunni Muslim world. Nabil was a law student at al-Azhar, but denounced it as "the university of terrorism," accusing it of promoting radical ideas and suppressing free thought.

Al-Azhar "stuffs its students' brains and turns them into human beasts ... teaching them that there is not place for differences in this life," he wrote. He was expelled from the university in March. In other posts, Nabil described Mubarak's regime as a "symbol of dictatorship." 

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