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ICC NOTE: In his blog Nabil was a fierce critic of conservative Muslims and in particularly of al-Azhar University , one of the most prestigious religious institutions in the Sunni Muslim world, where he was a law student.

Trial begins in ‘insulting Islam’

The Associated Press

CAIRO , Egypt – An Egyptian blogger went on trial Thursday on charges of insulting Islam and causing sectarian strife with his Internet writings.

It was Egypt ‘s first prosecution of a blogger, and it came as Washington has backed away from pressuring Egypt to improve its human rights record and bring democratic reform.

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

Egypt has arrested a string of pro-democracy bloggers over the past year, sparking condemnation from human rights groups.

Nabil’s trial in Alexandria began two days after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with Mubarak, seeking support for a new U.S. strategy on calming violence in Iraq . But unlike past visits to Egypt when she pressed demands for greater democracy, Rice made no reference to reform. Instead she praised the two countries’ “important strategic relationship — one that we value greatly.”

In court Thursday, Nabil was charged with inciting sedition, insulting Islam, harming national unity and insulting the president, a court official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of court rules.

Other bloggers have been detained and released without charges. They concentrated on politics, unlike Nabil, who wrote often on religion. In his blog Nabil was a fierce critic of conservative Muslims and in particularly of al-Azhar University , one of the most prestigious religious institutions in the Sunni Muslim world, where he was a law student.

He was thrown out of the university in March, and in his last blog entry before his arrest blamed al-Azhar for pushing the government to investigate him.

Blogging took off in Egypt in 2004, at a time when domestic political activists and the U.S. were stepping up calls for political reform.