ANTI-MUBARAK CAMPAIGN GOES TO INTERNET
Baheyya is Egyptian, pillories President Hosni Mubarak and heaps scorn on his regime daily. But this fiery dissident who says aloud what others don't dare to think has no face: Baheyya is a blog.
In an Egyptian presidential campaign that has failed to generate much enthusiasm, one of the hottest debates is taking place in the country's burgeoning political blogosphere.
"In every normal election, people have their eyes trained on the result: who wins, who loses, and how things will change. In this election, however, we all know Hosni Mubarak is going to 'win' barring some miraculous dues ex machina," writes Baheyya (http://baheyya.blogspot.com/).
She comments on a quaint picture of the "new Mubarak" sharing afternoon tea with a peasant woman in the Nile Delta during a carefully choreographed stop of his campaign last week.
"Mubarak and his handlers sordid efforts to negate 24 years of his well-known aloofness and indifference to ordinary Egyptians have surpassed all decency," she says.
Her identity is shrouded in mystery and the subject of much speculation among the blogging community but her diatribes have earned a cult albeit restricted following.
In a country where most major newspapers are state-owned or affiliated to a party, the Internet is offering an unprecedented freedom and platform for an increasingly bold opposition to the regime.
On a blog calling itself "The wordmonger", 36-year-old artist and blogger Abdo indulges in a satirical ode to "Mubarak, Prince of the believers", a title which usually refers to the Prophet Mohammed.
"God must love him so much: the more we curse him, the longer his reign lasts," he remarks.
Another Egyptian blogger explains he is posting his comments "so that future generations cannot accuse us of having remained silent when there was a need to speak out."
Accustomed to an autocratic regime that has severely restricted freedom of expression in the past, many Egyptians in the street are still keeping a lid on their exasperation, but bloggers are now letting off steam on the Internet.
"Wanderer of the big wide open" heckles his president directly: "Who are you Hosni? Are you not an Egyptian like all other Egyptians? Are you of holy ancestry?"
"What if he just vanished in the haze," he fantasises. "Imagine if the same face you've seen for 24 years on television screens and newspaper front pages suddenly disappeared.."
"Manal and Alaa" is a more militant blog written in both Arabic and English which lashes out at the regime's repression of opposition demonstrations by what they brand the state's "terrorist karate units".
Manal Hassan and Alaa Abdel Fattah, both aged 23, are among the few bloggers who accept to reveal their identity.
"This corrupt regime has reached its sell-by date and its stench has become unbearable," says Alaa, a young activist with a thick mane of long curly black hair and whose blog serves a bulletin board for announcing rallies and protests.
The year 2005 has seen anti-Mubarak street protests which were unimaginable even a year ago, but most of the country's 300-odd political bloggers are anonymous.
"They disguise their identities and it gives them a platform to say things they can't say in public," explains Joshua Stacker, a Cairo-based American political researcher.
"If the state wanted to go after them they could, but it's only the elite who reads them," he adds.
Mohammed, who runs a blog entitled "From Cairo With Love", is equally realistic on the impact of Internet dissent.
"What I don't believe, is that blogs and the Internet will reform the Arab world and make the people rise up. I think it could be used as a tool for better connection and dissemination of information," he says.
Amid a climate of heavy suspicion over the transparency of the upcoming poll, many bloggers see themselves as election monitors. "We are not players, we are observers," says Alaa Abdel Fattah.