As politicians draft Egypt's new constitution, bloggers are calling for clear definitions of freedom of expression and slander in new media, which played a prominent role during the January 25th revolution.
A group of Egyptian bloggers is seeking to bring fellow bloggers under one umbrella so they can create the right mechanisms to safeguard their freedom of expression and protect themselves from legal prosecution because of their views, Haitham Abu al-Alaa, blogger and student at the Faculty of Engineering at Ain Shams University, told Al-Shorfa.
"The Union of Egyptian Bloggers is not new; it was founded four years ago under the name 'Egypt First'," said Abu al-Alaa, himself a union member.
"The idea was to create an independent entity for bloggers to pursue official recognition as a union or a literary society," al-Alaa said. "However, in the past two years its activities have diminished due to events that followed the revolution and everyone's preoccupation with the active political process."
"Efforts are now under way to revive [this entity], as the blogging movement in all its forms has demonstrated its effectiveness before, during and after the Egyptian revolution," he added.
Abu al-Alaa said a group of active bloggers aims to increase union members to at least 2,500 so the group achieves official recognition.
They are also drafting a law to regulate bloggers' responsibilities and rights and will submit this law to the cabinet, he added.
"We want to develop a general framework [to define freedom of expression] so there is no chance for some to slander others, and to ensure we are committed to civilised dialogue," he said.
"The right to freedom of expression is guaranteed by the Egyptian constitution and must be preserved through self-censorship within a context of social and religious ethics," he added.
Abu al-Alaa also said the group wants to hold meetings and seminars to acquaint the public with the union.
Mohamed Yahya, a law professor at Al-Azhar University, said the issue of regulating new media has several legal aspects involving the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of the press and publishing, as well as those that ensure the sanctity of citizens and their constitutional and legal rights.
"The Egyptian constitution guarantees all these [freedoms]," he said. "Freedom of opinion is guaranteed under articles 40, 41, 46, 47 and 48 combined. Article 45 is devoted to protecting the sanctity of citizens and their communication against intrusion, except by court order."
These articles currently apply to media in general, so Egypt's new constitution should specifically address new media, which has become an integral part of the Egyptian citizen's everyday social and political life, according to Yahya.
The Egyptian citizen "initiated his revolution for several reasons, including the [right to] freedom of expression", he added.
This right must be preserved and placed within its own legal framework to address, for example, blog entries that deviate from respectable societal, religious and legal norms, Yahya said.
The law must also address blogging abuses such as "insults, degradations, religious transgressions" and words that are "immodest and offensive to public morals", he added.
Dr. Hassan Afifi, a lecturer at the Faculty of Mass Communication at Cairo University, said the concept of blogging has changed over the years.
Years ago, blogging was confined to private blogs and a few websites, and there were relatively few bloggers in Egypt, Afifi said. But with the profusion of social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and other modern communications tools, blogging has become more inclusive.
Blogging supports the individuals' right to express their own opinion without traditional restrictions, he said. "This is why creating a bloggers' union would be good, [so bloggers can] practise self-censorship."
"Everybody seeks freedom, but society and social and religious culture must nevertheless be taken into consideration and cannot be ignored," he added.