Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 September 2014, 13:07 GMT

Internet Enemies: Egypt

Publisher Reporters Without Borders
Publication Date 12 March 2009
Cite as Reporters Without Borders, Internet Enemies: Egypt, 12 March 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4a38f987c.html [accessed 1 October 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Domain name: .eg
Population: 81,713,517
Internet-users: 10,532,400
Average charge for one hour's connection at a cybercafé: 0.15 of a euro
Average monthly salary: about 40 euros
Number of private Internet service providers: 208
Number of public Internet service providers: 1
Number of imprisoned bloggers: 2

The vitality of the Egyptian blogosphere on the international scene is far from being an advantage for the bloggers involved, who are among the most hounded in the world.

Three bodies run the Egyptian Internet: The Information and Decision Support Centre – which also advises the authorities in the socio-economic and political field; The Supreme Council of Universities – because the network was initially developed to ease exchange of information in the academic world; as well as Telecom Egypt, which owns one of the country's biggest service providers, TEData.

There are more than 200 private service providers. Each public Internet access point can provide the user with a telephone number to go online via a modem. Despite the government's efforts to make computers more affordable, the Internet penetration rate remains low at 12.9%. But ADSL, launched in 2004, is attracting more and more users; there were 427,100 in December 2008, twice as many as in 2007.

Since the beginning of 2007, the government has stepped up its surveillance of the Web in the name of the fight against terrorism. Officials monitor information exchanged online and cybercafés have to obtain a licence from the telecommunications ministry under threat of closure. Some cybercafé owners have said that they had been ordered to note and file all their customers' identity card numbers. Large numbers of people use these cybercafés that are under surveillance because the charges are so much lower than that of individual subscriptions, sometimes shared between several users. The authorities have since last summer applied regulations to access to the WiFi network, which is having a direct impact on freedom of expression.

To connect to the wireless network, a customer has to provide a mobile phone number and some personal data such as identity card numbers, address and so on, which gives rise to concerns about freedom of speech. The banner of the state of emergency law Unlike its Saudi and Syrian neighbours, Egypt is a country in which freedom of speech does still exist. An independent press has developed and criticism is permitted. More than a space for expression, the Web has become a space for action, particularly through social networks, which little by little have started taking on the role of trade unions, which were banned under the state of emergency law. In force since 1981, the emergency legislation banned trade unions from political activities. But the most active Internet users call virtual rallies that can give rise to genuine political demands. One group, created on the social networking site Facebook, and boasting more than 65,000 members, was used to channel protests in April 2008. Calling on Egyptians to "stay home", it contributed to a general strike and one of the largest expressions of unrest in several years.

Since no law regulated this space, the interior ministry in 2002 set up a department responsible for investigating online offences. As a result, security forces arrested around 100 bloggers in 2008 for "damaging national security". One of the members of the 6 April Facebook group, Esraa Abdel Fattah Ahmed spent two weeks in prison for being a member of this group. Its creator, Ahmed Maher, a 27-year-old engineer, was detained and beaten for 12 hours by police in Mahalla, north of Cairo, who wanted to identify the rest of the group. Shortly afterwards, another blogger, Kareem El-Beheiri, spent 73 days in custody in connection with articles posted on his blog (http://egyworkers.blogspot.com/), dealing with workers' rights and official corruption. Currently, two cyber-dissidents are behind bars because of the opinions they have posted online.

Dia'Eddin Gad, aged 22, was arrested at his home in Kattour, in Gharbiyah province, in the Nile delta on 6 February 2009. He started a blog in January 2009, "A voice in anger" (http://soutgadeb.blogspot.com), on which he posted articles criticising the Egyptian government's stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where he presented himself as "an Egyptian citizen who loves his country and wishes it long life along with its courageous people". He is being held in an unknown detention centre and the authorities have not provided any explanation.

On 22 February 2007, Abdel Kareem Nabil Suleiman, aka "Kareem Amer", was sentenced to three years in prison for "insulting the president" and one year for "incitement to hatred of Islam", because of his comments on an Internet forum seen as overly critical of the government. He used his blog to regularly condemn abuses on the part of President Hosni Mubarak's government and the country's highest religious authorities, in particular the Sunni university of al-Azhar, where he was studying law. He has become a symbol of political repression by the authorities against bloggers in the Arab world. He was the laureate in the cyber-freedoms category of the 2007 Reporters Without Borders – Fondation de France prize.

Links
http://www.idsc.gov.eg/: information and decision support centre (English and Arabic)
http://www.hrinfo.net: website of the organisation HRInfo, human rights defender in the Arab world (English and Arabic), member of the Reporters Without Borders' network of partner organisations.
http://www.ise.org.eg: website of the "Egyptian Internet Society" (English and Arabic)
http://misrdigital.blogspirit.com/: blog of Wael Abbas (chiefly Arabic but some articles written in English)
http://www.karam903.blogspot.com: the blog of Kareem Amer (Arabic)

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