Censorship

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Censorship
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Egypt 🇪🇬 is a North African country which practices Islam and, to an extent, Coptic Christianity. It is the most populous Arab nation in the world.

General censorship[]

The government of Egypt, during the modern era, used a fundamentally secular legal code that went back decades. In 1985, Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak and the National Assembly revised that code in order to try and take some of the heat off of Islamist anti-regime activists such as those in the Muslim Brotherhood by co-opting some of the Islamists' demands. Systematic Islamic censorship on the nation's media began at the same time as the imposition of religious education in state schools.

The government's Ministry of Culture typically worked with the Islamic Research Council, based out of Al-Azhar University, to implement Islamic censorship of the nation's film industry.

Egyptian films of the nation's classic cinema period often depict all sorts of physical affection such as kisses and hugging, and said films receive frequent play on the state-owned Egyptian Television Network. In the aftermath of the Arab Spring toppling of Mubarak's government, some conservative Islamists in Egypt's parliament have worked for a comprehensive censorship law banning such displays. Many Egyptians have expressed concerns about increasing Islamic censorship harming the nation's entertainment industries.

Although both secular and Islamic censorship has existed, widespread use of the internet, physical distribution of DVDs, and so on has broadly allowed a large variety of arts and media access. Those measures have not kept Cairo from being regarded as the largest arts and media publishing hub in the Middle East.

A coalition of participants in the Egyptian art world formed the 'Egyptian Creativity Front' to oppose Islamic censorship by the ruling Muslim Brotherhood, using the slogan "Long Live Free Art". The government has used article 44 of the new Egyptian Constitution as justification for their measures, which states "insult or abuse of all religious messengers and prophets shall be prohibited".

Book censorship[]

  • Al Arabi - this newspaper owned by the Nasserist Party was closed down in 1999, a year after the arrest and six-month prison sentence of an editor due to the alleged defamation of a pro-government writer, Tharwat Abaza. The Egyptian government originally offered to help financially the paper (which the party decided to not finance anymore). However, the Nasserist Party did not accept the proposal, reducing the frequency of Al Arabi from daily to weekly
  • Bint al Nil - this feminist newspaper was banned by the Egyptian authorities after pits ublication iceased n 1957, due to Dits editor's, activist oria Shafik's harsh criticisms over Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser accusing him being an authoritarian ruler. In addition, the government of Nasser put Shafik under house arrest.
  • Al Muqattam - this newspaper was banned and closed by the Egyptian government in 1954 due to the paper's support of Jews to Palestine and being pro-British (before Egypt's independence in 1914), as well as its criticism of Saudi ruler Ibn Saud.
  • Al Fajr Al Jadid - this leftist magazine was closed and banned by the government in 1946 due to the magazine's criticism of Prime Minister Ismail Sidky's administration.
  • Al Nadhir - this Islamic magazine was banned by the Egyptian Government in 1939 due to the magazine's connection with the Muslim Brotherhood.
  • Idhaa - this literary magazine was banned several times. has been banned several times. For instance, it was banned following the publication of a painting portraying Adam and Eve naked. The other ban occurred after publishing a study about Jewish culture. In April 2007, the magazine was banned and its license was revoked by the Egyptian State Council Administrative Court on 7 April 2009 due to the publication of a poem entitled "On the balcony of Leila Murad" by Egyptian poet Hilmi Salem (1951-2012). The poem in which God was likened to an Egyptian peasant was regarded by the court as "blasphemous". The petition to the court was made by the authorities at Al Azhar University. However, the earlier prints of the poem in Salem's 2006 anthology and in Al Wafd daily and Al Arabi magazine did not cause any stir. In addition to the ban, the magazine was harshly criticized by Hamdi Rizq writing for Almasry Alyoum, a daily in Egypt, due to its publication of the poem. The ban and license revoking were reversed on appeal in June 2009.
  • Ash-Shams - this Jewish newspaper was banned in 1948 because its editor's political outlook combined Egyptian nationalism with moderate Zionism. The weekly was closed down by the Egyptian government in May 1948.
  • Feast for the Seaweeds - this novel by Haidar Haidar was banned in Egypt and several other Arab states, and even resulted in a belated angry reaction from the clerics of Al-Azhar University upon reprinting in Egypt in the year 2000. The clerics issued a fatwa banning the novel, and accused Haidar of heresy and offending Islam. Al-Azhar University students staged huge protests against the novel, that eventually led to its confiscation.
  • The Satanic Verses - this novel by Salman Rushdie was banned for blasphemy against Islam.

Film censorship[]

  • Funny Girl - this film was banned in Egypt for depicting a romance between an Egyptian actor (Omar Sharif) and a Jewish actress (Barbra Streisand). Streisand's political support for Israel was also a factor in the ban, and Egypt did not have good relations with the country back then.
  • The Ten Commandments - Although this film was filmed in Egypt, with assistance from the modern Egyptian military, it ended up being banned in that country when it finally came out. This was largely because it had the bad luck of being released during the height of the Suez Crisis, making Gamal Abdel Nasser opposed to releasing a film in which Israel wins over Egypt.
  • The Emigrant - This successful film directed by Youssef Chahine had its distribution ended when the Council objected to a character's portrayal of the religious figure Joseph, since Islam forbids visual representation of religious figures. Chahine sued and won, ensuring further showings of his film and showing the sometimes inconsistent nature of Egyptian censorship.
  • The Prince of Egypt - this animated film was banned in Egypt for a few reasons, though unlike other cases, not because of the depiction of Moses (though that probably didn't help matters), but, it was due to Ramses II's (who in modern Egypt is a highly regarded and heroic figure) portrayal as an antagonist in the film.
  • The Matrix Reloaded - this film was banned due to violent content and its religious themes
  • The Da Vinci Code - this film was banned because of blasphemous content.
  • Halawet Rooh (Sweetness of Soul) - this film was banned right after being screened in cinemas, after criticism over scenes deemed sexually provocative. The movie was criticised for copying Giuseppe Tornatore's 2000 film Malena, which starred Italian actress Monica Bellucci.

Internet censorship[]

Although the Internet in Egypt was not directly censored under the regime of President Hosni Mubarak, his regime kept watch on the most critical bloggers and regularly arrested them. Censorship at a technological level during that time was largely in the form of optional filters offered by Egyptian ISPs to block pornography; TE Data offers Internet services with content controls which filter "all of the Internet's indecent content that might affect your children".

In August 2009 the OpenNet Initiative reported finding no evidence of Internet filtering in Egypt in any of the four areas it monitors (political, social, conflict/security, and Internet tools). Using data and information gathered during 2010, the status of Internet freedom in Egypt was classified as "Partly Free" in Freedom on the Net 2011 by Freedom House.

The outcome of the 2011 Egyptian revolution was initially interpreted as a chance to establish greater freedom of expression in Egypt, especially online. Reflecting these dramatic changes and opportunities in Egypt, in March 2011 Reporters Without Borders moved Egypt from its "Internet Enemies" list to its countries "under surveillance" list.

In March 2012 Reporters Without Borders reported:

  • "The first anniversary of Egypt’s revolution was celebrated in a climate of uncertainty and tension between a contested military power, a protest movement attempting to get its second wind, and triumphant Islamists. Bloggers and netizens critical of the army have been harassed, threatened, and sometimes arrested".
  • "The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which has been leading the country since February 2011, has not only perpetuated Hosni Mubarak’s ways of controlling information, but has strengthened them. Numerous journalists and bloggers seeking to expose the abuses committed during the pro-democratic uprising by certain elements of the Army or the military police have been prosecuted before military courts, and sometimes jailed for several months".

In 2005, Egyptian authorities continued to both encourage and place restrictions on the use of the Internet. For example, in February, Egypt's Ministry of Interior ordered Internet café managers and owners to record their customers' names and ID numbers and threatened to close the cafés if they refused to comply. This action was condemned by the Cairo-based Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, which described it as "a gross violation to the right to privacy". In August 2008, authorities increased the level of surveillance by demanding that Internet café customers provide their names, email addresses, and phone numbers in order to receive a text message on their smartphones containing a PIN that they can use to access the Internet.

As the Egyptian blogosphere continued to grow, so did the Egyptian government's crackdown on bloggers and Internet users. For example, blogger Abdel Kareem Nabil Suleiman Amer ("Kareem Amer") was sentenced in February 2007 to four years in prison for "incitement to hatred of Islam" on his blog and for insulting the president. He has since become the symbol of online repression for the country's bloggers. Other Egyptian bloggers have also been arrested for their online activities, and some have been sentenced to prison. One example is Mohamed Refaat, editor of the blog Matabbat (matabbat.blogspot.com), who was arrested in August 2008 under the state emergency law. He was charged with "offending the state institutions, destabilizing public security, and inciting others to demonstrate and strike via the Internet".

In a landmark 2007 legal case, an administrative court rejected a lawsuit brought by a judge calling for the banning of 49 websites in Egypt. The court emphasized its support for freedom of expression as long as such websites do not harm the beliefs or public order. However, in May 2009, a Cairo court ruled that the Egyptian government must ban access to pornographic websites because they are deemed offensive to religion and society's values. The suit was filed by a lawyer who pointed out an Egyptian man and his wife who were sentenced to prison for starting a swingers club via the Internet as an example of "the dangers posed by such offensive Web sites". It remains to be seen[needs update] whether the authorities will enforce this court order.

Egypt has witnessed an increase in the use of Facebook for social activism, which alerted the Egyptian government to the potential force of the site. As a result, there were rumors that it might be blocked, especially after a group of activists managed to recruit supporters using Facebook for the 2008 Egyptian general strike protesting against rising food prices and President Hosni Mubarak's government.

On 28 March 2011, military officers arrested the 25-year-old blogger Maikel Nabil at his home in Cairo. The military prosecutor charged him with "insulting the military establishment" and "spreading false information" for blogs that criticized the army's role during anti-government protests. On 10 April, a military court sentenced Nabil to three years in prison, in what Human Rights Watch called a serious setback to freedom of expression in post-Mubarak Egypt. Not only was the sentence severe, but it was imposed on a civilian by a military tribunal after an unfair trial. Along with close to 2,000 other detainees, he was granted a pardon and released on 24 January 2012, having spent ten months behind bars. Immediately after his release, he once more began to challenge the legitimacy of the armed forces and criticizing their record on the eve of the first anniversary of Egypt's revolution.

Another online activist who continued to challenge Egypt's censorship policies was Khaled Said, a young Alexandrian man who was beaten to death by police in June 2010 for posting a video on the Internet that exposed police corruption. His death inspired the creation of the Facebook page We are All Khaled Said, which became a mobilizing and organizing online space. Other online activists were arrested and unjustly detained—including Wael Ghoneim, the founder and moderator of the We are All Khaled Said Facebook page.

American company Narus, a subsidiary of Boeing Corporation, sold the Mubarak government surveillance equipment that helped identify dissidents during the 2011 revolution.

The 2011 Egyptian protests began on 25 January 2011. As a result, on the 25th and 26th of January, the Egyptian government blocked Twitter in Egypt and later Facebook was blocked as well.

On 27 January, various reports claimed that access to the Internet in the entire country had been shut down. The authorities responsible achieved this by shutting down the country's official Domain Name System, in an attempt to stop mobilization for anti-government protests. Later reports stated that almost all BGP announcements out of the country had been withdrawn, almost completely disconnecting the country from the global Internet, with only a single major provider, Noor Data Networks, remained up. And though Noor continued to operate for several days, its routes started to be withdrawn at 20:46 UTC on 31 January.

It was later reported that the five major Egyptian service providers—Telecom Egypt, Vodafone Egypt/Raya, Link Egypt, Etisalat Misr, and Internet Egypt—all went dark one after the other between 22:12 and 22:25 UTC (12:12–12:25 am. Friday 28 January Cairo time). As a result, approximately 93% of all Egyptian networks were unreachable by late afternoon. The shutdown happened within the space of a few tens of minutes, not instantaneously, which was interpreted as companies receiving phone calls one at a time, ordering them to shut down access, rather than an automated system taking all providers down at once.

Analysis by BGPMon showed that only 26 BGP routes of the 2903 registered routes to Egyptian networks remained active after the blackout was first noticed; thus, an estimated 88% of the whole Egyptian network was disconnected. RIPE NCC has two graphs of routing activity from Egypt, announcements/withdrawals and available prefixes, including a snapshot of activity during the shutdown.

Shortly after the Internet shutdown, engineers at Google, Twitter, and SayNow, a voice-messaging startup company acquired by Google in January, announced the Speak To Tweet service. Google stated in its official blog that the goal of the service was to assist Egyptian protesters in staying connected during the Internet shutdown. Users could phone in a tweet by leaving a voicemail and use the Twitter hashtag #Egypt. These tweets can be accessed without an Internet connection by dialing the same designated phone numbers. Those with Internet access can listen to the tweets by visiting twitter.com/speak2tweet.

Internet service providers such as the French Data Network (FDN)[who else?] provided free (zero-cost) dial-up access to Egyptians with landline (analogue) international telephone access. FDN provided the service as a matter of principle, to "contribute to the freedom of expression of the Egyptian people and allow them to keep a connection with the rest of the world."

Following the shutdown of the Internet in Egypt, Barack Obama, then President of the United States of America, published a statement calling for an end to the Internet ban:

  • "The people of Egypt have rights that are universal. That includes the right to peaceful assembly and association, the right to free speech and the ability to determine their own destiny. These are human rights and the United States will stand up for them everywhere. I also call upon the Egyptian government to reverse the actions that they've taken to interfere with access to the internet, to cellphone service and to social networks that do so much to connect people in the 21st century".

On 2 February, connectivity was reestablished by the four main Egyptian service providers. A week later, the heavy filtering that occurred at the height of the revolution had ended and bloggers and online activists who had been arrested were released.

The Egyptian government intensified efforts after the overthrow of Morsi to bolster its ability to intercept and monitor messages and data sent over the Internet, affecting with the digital security tools that facilitate secure communication channels. In many cases, these disturbances have completely or partially disabled the encryption services widely used by commercial and civil services and individuals to secure the flow of their data.

Awareness of the interference did not gain traction among the wider public until December 2016, when users suddenly discovered that Signal, the messaging and voice calling application supported by Open Whisper Systems' encryption protocol, had stopped working in Egypt. Digital security experts contend that they had faced similar problems months before, a fact that led some information security companies to halt the collection of monthly fees pending a resolution.

Indications that the Egyptian government has made attempts to acquire technology that would allow it greater surveillance of communication networks have surfaced several times. The most notable revelation came about as result of a July 2015 data breach when an unknown individual hacked the Milan-based information technology company HackingTeam's computer system. Around 400 gigabytes of data – including emails, contracts, bills and budgets involving the company and Egyptian security and intelligence authorities – were made accessible to the public.

In concert with other evidence, the leaked documents show that Egyptian authorities were attempting to acquire technology that would allow them to collect information on specific users of interest through directed surveillance.

The first problem that companies and specialists faced that indicated Egyptian security agencies may be targeting the infrastructure of the entire network arose in August 2016. Technicians noted that access to Secure Shell (SSH) – a protocol to provide secure communication channels across unsecured public networks and provided by different online services providers – had been obstructed. SSH protocol provided by US company DigitalOcean is used daily in the management of millions of communication processes that occur over the Internet.

In response to the obstruction, DigitalOcean's users and clients began to contact the company. In a response to a client's inquiry, which was obtained by Mada Masr, DigitalOcean wrote that the interrupted service was not the result of a technical error but had been deliberately caused:

  • "Since you're physically in Egypt, there's not much we would be able to do to prevent them from messing with your traffic... Your government is performing Deep Packet Inspection and is messing somehow with these secure connections".

Data is most often transferred over the Internet in small network packets that are "repackaged" and made legible on the recipient's side. Deep packet inspection intercepts the data and examines the identity of communicators, as well as the content of this communication at an inspection point between the sender and recipient. The U.S. company added that they contacted both Egyptian service provider TEData and the Egyptian government to inquire about the interruption.

Days after the interruption in the SSH protocol was detected, access to HTTPS was temporarily blocked. HTTPS is a protocol to securely transfer hypertexts, which constitute the core units of all web pages. The protocol continued to operate without interruption for internet giants like Facebook and Google but was completely blocked for all other websites.

The Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) – an international network operating under the Tor Project that monitors internet censorship, traffic manipulation and signs of surveillance – decided to launch a thorough investigation in August into what was happening in Egypt at the request of technical experts in the country. In October 2016, OONI published a report that confirmed much of what the independent tests had pointed to, as well as DigitalOcean's assessment.

The report indicates that the Tor anonymity network appeared to be interfered with in Egypt, though HTTPS connections to DigitalOcean's Frankfurt data center were throttled. The OONI report also asserted that the access to pornography websites appeared to be interfered with via in-band TCP packet injections of advertisement and malware content, and that the temporary blocking of The New Arab's website led to the blocking of specific content (such as images) of other sites that are hosted on the same content distribution network as The New Arab. Freedom House has reported that other VPN and proxy services intended to circumvent censorship, including TunnelBear, CyberGhost, Hotspot Shield, TigerVPN, and ZenVPN have been blocked as well.

In June 2017, Egypt banned at least 62 websites in a crackdown, including Daily Sabah, Medium, Al Jazeera, The Huffington Post, and Mada Masr along with opposition websites, like El-Badil, for containing material that "support terrorism and extremism as well as publish lies". The crackdown was condemned by the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE), Mada Masr and by the Index on Censorship. The ATFE stated that "the blocking of websites violates the Egyptian Constitution". By October, that figure had climbed to 434 banned websites, including the sites of many opposition organizations and activists.

Similarly, social media pages have been shut down or had content removed or their administrators arrested by the Egyptian government. Although Facebook, Google, and Twitter have not reported receiving formal takedown requests from the Egyptian government, its supporters have reported dozens of satirical anti-government Facebook pages for violating the site's community standards. President Sisi's statement that "with the assistance of two web brigades, I can shut down thepages, take them over and make them my own.” led many Egyptian commentators to believe that the takedowns had official support. In December 2016, the Egyptian Ministry of the Interior claimed to have shut down 163 Facebook pages and arrested 14 administrators.

Voice-over-IP (VoIP) services—including WhatsApp, Skype, Viber, FaceTime, and Facebook Messenger—have been intermittently blocked on mobile networks by the NTRA since 2013, though disruptions to VoIP have been reported as early as 2010. The NTRA initially claimed that it was blocking VoIP services for economic reasons, but it became more explicit about the political and security purpose of its blocking in 2015.

The government has shut down Internet and phone networks in the Sinai on multiple occasions since 2014, ostensibly as part of its conflict against the ongoing Islamist Sinai insurgency. These localized shutdowns are timed to coincide with military operations, though their counterinsurgency effectiveness is limited because of insurgents' widespread usage of workarounds such as walkie-talkies and portable Broadband Global Area Network terminals. However, the shutdowns block emergency calls, preventing civilians from obtaining treatment for combat wounds and, in several cases, preventing women who went into labor from reaching the hospital.

A number of Egyptians have been arrested, detained, or imprisoned for their posts on social media. Reasons given for these detentions and prosecutions include spreading fake news, inciting violence, insulting the president, and "contempt of religion," and sentences have been as severe as five years in prison. Though arrests initially only targeted known activists and members of opposition groups, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, in 2017 the Egyptian government began going after unaffiliated Egyptians who criticized it.

Anti-government bloggers are also often intimidated or harassed by pro-government individuals and news sites. April 6 Movement founder and activist Esraa Abdel Fattah had personal photos, emails, and recordings of phone calls posted on social media without her consent in 2017, for example. As of 2018, independent media editors can be arrested for maintaining a news site without a license.

LGBT Egyptians became the target of a particularly fierce crackdown in 2017, after several Egyptians were arrested for sharing images of a rainbow flag flying at a Mashrou’ Leila concert in Cairo. Although homosexuality is legal in Egypt, LGBT Egyptians are charged with "debauchery and immorality." Fifty seven LGBT Egyptians were arrested by October 2017, with ten of them being sentenced to between one and six years in prison. This crackdown follows similar efforts by Egyptian police to use Grindr, a dating app for gay men, to entrap gay Egyptians. This practice began in 2014 but is still occurring as of 2017.

Human rights organizations have called on the authorities in Egypt to end the trial of the content creators of TikTok who have been prosecuted for exercising their freedom of expression through their online content. Reportedly, 11 defendants were referred to trial in 2020 for sharing content on platforms such as Likee and TikTok. As per IFEX, the Cairo Criminal Court held a session on 31 May 2021 for the hearing of the case of human trafficking involving TikTok influencers.

In the week after the extremely small 20—21 September 2019 protests, Egyptian authorities blocked, restricted, or temporarily disrupted online communication services, such as BBC News, WhatsApp, Signal.

A major use of social media in Egypt in recent years has been for political activism and revolutions, and the two most-used websites in Egypt in 2010 were Google and Facebook. Social media sites like Facebook allowed liberal, minority, and religious groups to make communication networks and mobilize protests, as can be seen with the Egyptian Revolution of 2011. Although the Egyptian government began restricting Internet use, protesters still used social media to stay connected. Recently, Egyptian police have been using social media, such as Grindr, to find and arrest homosexual men.

Television censorship[]

  • During the 2017-2021 diplomatic crisis which led many Arab countries to sever ties with Qatar due to said country's financement of terrorists, Egypt was one of the countries to ban Qatar-based network Al-Jazeera.

Video game censorship[]

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