Encouraging shoots of change in Egypt

A welcome development:

A judge fined former President Hosni Mubarak and two officials about $91 million Saturday for cutting cellphone and Internet services during the protests this winter that forced Mubarak to step down.

It was the first court ruling against Mubarak since he was ousted Feb. 11.

Egyptian state television reported late Saturday that an administrative court fined Mubarak about $33.6 million, former Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif about $6.7 million, and former Interior Minister Habib Adli about $50.4 million.

The three were found guilty of “causing damage to the national economy,” state television reported, and ordered to pay the fines to the Egyptian treasury.

Political analyst Nabil Abdel Fattah said the ruling was a watershed for activists and academics who struggled to express themselves and organize online under the Mubarak regime.

“It protects organizing networks in virtual space,” he said, and signals that under Egypt’s transitional military government, “you must respect the freedom of speech and communications. Any authoritarian constraints are refused.”