Brian Whitaker, the Guardian
Alaa Abd El Fattah is in jail. He was arrested on Sunday – accused of inciting violence against the Egyptian military – and on Monday was given 15 days' detention for refusing to answer questions to a military court.
A campaign to secure his release has also got under way with extraordinary rapidity: protests in the streets, a Twitter hashtag (#FreeAlaa) and even graffiti appeared within the first 24 hours or so. That is not especially surprising as Alaa, besides being a pioneer of Egyptian blogging, belongs to one of the most famous families of leftist agitators.
By arresting him, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which is currently running Egypt (and increasingly being referred to as "the junta"), has picked a fight with the core of the movement that toppled President Mubarak in January. Leftists, liberals and Islamists have all been rallying to Alaa's support and it may not be long before the junta starts to regret its action.
There are two reasons why this could turn into a cause célèbre. One is a growing recognition that the military, after initially supporting the revolution, has been back-pedalling ever since and in some ways is even more repressive that the old Mubarak regime. Military trials of civilians such as Alaa are the most obvious sign of that.
The other factor is Alaa's own celebrity status which makes it easier to mobilise a campaign – unlike several other cases (Maikel Nabil and Essam Ali Atta, for example) which have been slower to take off. Alaa also has the benefit of name-recognition outside Egypt: every foreign journalist who covered the January uprising has probably heard of him, if not actually met him.
Given this level of interest, it is unlikely that the junta will allow him to be tortured (which is more than can be said for many others in the same predicament) and, although in theory they could extend his 15-day detention indefinitely, they probably will not do so.
Though it would be churlish not to support the campaign on Alaa's behalf, it's important to remember that around 12,000 civilians have been hauled up before the military courts since February – far more than during the whole of Mubarak's 30-year presidency – and that hardly any of the others have been blessed with Twitter hashtags.
Alaa's release would certainly be welcome. But what Egypt needs more than his release is an end to the system that has put him in jail, along with thousands of others.