A number of Egpytian bloggers and other usual suspects (journalists, writers, activists, etc, like for example Maikel Nabil Sanad) have been arrested for the crime of 'insulting the military' and 'spreading false information'.
It recalls Edward Chaffee's 1919 booklet, "Freedom of Speech in War Time", which was written in response to the United States newly minted Espionage Act of 1917, and especially its 1918 amendment the Sedition Act.
One of Chaffee's central points is that in the old monarchies of Europe, the crime of 'slandering the crown' was used to destroy all sorts of legitimate criticism of the governemnt. In essence, a democracy turns on it's head the notion that the people can slander the government - Chaffee's analogy is that the government becomes a servant to the people in a democracy, and a servant cannot 'slander' a master.
He ties this into the American Revolution and the first amendment of the constitution. Freedom of Speech means that it is perfectly acceptable to 'slander the government', and a good history of case law (case law being the clay that courts work with to build decisions) backed up that philosophical foundation.
The Egyptian military, apparently, does not believe in the philosophy of the government being 'public servants'. It has, it would seem, ressurected the old monarchical notion of 'slandering the crown', in it's various imprisonments of bloggers and journalists for 'spreading false information and insulting the military'.
If the military were the servant of the people, would it ever be able to make a case for 'slander' in a military court - in absentia?
A fun fact.... Chaffee's essay helped influence Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes to change his mind about the Sedition Act. He even invited Chaffee to discuss the matter with him. Could this happen in Egpyt?
Holmes was within a century old legal system built on a habit of civil society and intellectual adherence to the ideals of the Enlightenment. The Egyptian government is still holding civilians in military courts in absentia - - one wonders if any sort of Oliver Holmes type could ever rise to a position of much influence in such a system.
Another note: the Sedition Act of 1918 expired soon after it was passed - with a public not quite impressed by the Palmer Raids (even after a spate of Anarchist bombings of officials). The system of Congress, and elections of congressmen (direct election of Senators had only recently come into existence), again, a piece of the civil society puzzle in which Holmes, and Chaffee, played parts. Would this happen in Egypt? Do they have a congress? Is it elected? What about the media? Are they free to report on 'Palmer Raid' style operations by the Egyptian government? Are people allowed to express outrage?
Egypt: Military Intensifies Clampdown on Free Expression Human Rights Watch, aug 17 2011
Coptic Blogger Jailed for Criticizing Egyptian Military Goes on Hunger Strike
, Human Rights Watch, 2011 8 17
Maikel Nabil Sanad. The usual suspect that governments fear (a pacifist who won't shut up)
Jailed Egyptian blogger on hunger strike, Committee to Protect Journalists, 2011 August
Freedom of Speech in War Time Edward Chaffee, 1919, from Google Books