In the past several years, Egypt has witnessed the birth of a lively and diverse blogosphere. Several bloggers have become media celebrities and won international awards for their work. Foremost among them is Wael Abbas, who received the prestigious Knight International Journalism Award in 2007. This in turn may have helped spur interest in internet activism among young Egyptians. The number of blogs was estimated at 160,000 in April 2008.14 The popularity of the social networking site Facebook has also helped to create a culture of internet-based activism. Many bloggers now post “notes” and links to their blogs “Blog Shut Down After Promoting Opposition Candidate,” IFEX, September 16, http://www.ifex.org/egypt/2010/09/16/amrosama.eb2a_blocked/.
Danny O’Brien, “Facebook gets caught up in Egypt’s media crackdown,” Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), December 1, 2010, http://www.cpj.org/internet/2010/12/facebook-gets-caught-up-in-egypts-media-crackdown-1.php.
Abdulla, Policing the Internet in the Arab World (Dubai: Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research, 2009).
Zaghloul, Electronic Mass Communication in Egypt, 38.
EGYPT FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net on Facebook. Twitter is used to disseminate links to Facebook posts and blogs. Though Twitter is not yet very popular, messages posted to the service by ElBaradei have been widely read on Facebook.
As the number of blogs has increased, so has the diversity of opinion and content. In addition, opposition and human rights activists have found innovative ways to use blogs and social networking sites to call attention to causes and organize protests. In some cases, they have succeeded in doing what traditional activists could not. For example, in November 2007, a Cairo court sentenced two police officers to three years in prison for beating and raping a microbus driver based on video evidence that was first obtained by Abbas, who posted the material on YouTube.15 The trial and sentencing of police officers for such wrongdoing was believed to be unprecedented. In 2008, a Facebook group formed by Esraa Abdel Fattah in support of workers in an Egyptian village called for a national day of strikes on April 6. The group gathered over 70,000 members and led to the formation of what is now known as the April 6 Youth Movement. The success of the group was aided by the fact that it caught the attention of the traditional media,16 and thousands of Egyptians opted to stay home on the day of the strike. Internet also played an important role in protests, public discussions, and monitoring of the November 2010 elections. Since the government rejected the calls for international observers, a group of activists initiated a crowdsourcing and interactive mapping website based on the Ushahidi model, to quickly record and report on election violations.As of the end of 2010, the central goal for Egyptian internet activists and bloggers was political change. ElBaradei supporters and other activists were calling for Egyptians to sign a list of seven reform demands. They were hoping to pressure the government into abolishing the Emergency Law and enacting constitutional amendments that would limit presidents to two terms in office and make it possible for independents to run for the presidency.18 They were also calling for the upcoming presidential election to be monitored by independent local and international observers to ensure fairness and transparency.
VIOLATIONS OF USER RIGHTS No laws specifically grant the government the power to censor the internet. Egypt’s constitution and the 2003 Law on Telecommunications uphold freedom of speech and Human Rights Watch, “Egypt: Police Officers Get Three Years for Beating, Raping Detainee,” news release, November 6, 2007, http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2007/11/06/egypt-police-officers-get-three-years-beating-raping-detainee.
Abdulla, Policing the Internet in the Arab World.
“Activists Strive to Monitor Egyptian Vote,” Egyptian Gazette Online, November 25, 2010, http://126.96.36.199/~egyptian/index.phpaction=news&id=13154&title=Activists%20strive%20to%20monitor%20Egypt ian%20vote.
President Hosni Mubarak has been in power since 1981.
EGYPT FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net citizens’ right to privacy, and require a judicial warrant for surveillance.19 However, articles of the penal code and the Emergency Law—which has been in effect without interruption since 1981 and was most recently extended for another two years in 2010—give security agencies broad authority to monitor and censor all communications, and to arrest and detain individuals indefinitely without charge.20 Amendments to the Press Law passed in preserved provisions that criminalize “spreading false news” and criticizing the head of state of Egypt or another country,21 and courts have ruled that these restrictions apply to online writings.22 Constitutional amendments passed in 2007 paved the way for future counterterrorism legislation that could make permanent the Emergency Law provisions allowing for widespread surveillance.23 In 2010, Egypt saw the first court case in which a judge found an internet cafe owner liable for defamatory information posted online by a visitor to his shop.In 2008, Egypt proposed an Arab Satellite Broadcasting Charter to the information ministers of other Arab states at a meeting of the Arab League in Cairo. The nonbinding document, which is regarded as a serious threat to freedom of expression,25 was adopted by most Arab countries, with the exceptions of Qatar and Lebanon. Egypt is working on a Satellite Broadcasting Regulation Law based on the charter, which would act as the regulatory document governing satellite and internet communications.
It is difficult to gauge the extent to which Egyptian security services monitor internet and mobile-phone communications, although a history of distrust between citizens and security forces has led to the widespread assumption that such monitoring could be in place at any time. All internet and mobile-phone users are required to register their personal information with the ISP or mobile operator. Those who buy a USB modem have to fill out a registration form and submit a copy of their national identification card. The same regulations apply for home internet subscribers. The government asks most internet cafes owners to record the names and identification numbers of their customers.
Social networking sites make it much easier for internet activists to organize, but they also allow government agents to monitor such activity and identify participants.26 The government regularly applies offline punishments or intimidation to online activists.27 This Law No. 10 of 2003, Article 65.
Law No. 162 of 1958, renewed in 1981.
Law No. 147 of 2006.
“The Blogger and the Pharaoh,” International Herald Tribune, February 26, 2007, http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/02/26/opinion/edblog.php.
Amnesty International, “Egypt: Proposed Constitutional Amendments Greatest Erosion of Human Rights in 26 Years,” news release, March 18, 2007, http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/MDE12/008/2007/en.
“Journalist and Blogger Fined and Sentenced to Six Months in Jail,” IFEX, September 3, 2010, http://www.ifex.org/egypt/2010/09/03/shehata_sentenced/.
Article 19, “Arab Charter for Satellite TV: A Major Setback to Freedom of Expression in the Region,” news release, February 13, 2008, http://www.article19.org/pdfs/press/egypt-adoption-of-the-arab-charter-for-satellite-tv.pdf.
Abdulla, Policing the Internet in the Arab World.
EGYPT FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net includes “friendly” warnings in phone calls from military or security officers, beating or detaining activists during street demonstrations, and court cases that may lead to prison sentences. In addition, security services use legal and extralegal means to collect users’ internet and mobile-phone records from ISPs, internet cafes, and phone companies in the course of their investigations. These abuses have resulted in Egypt’s inclusion on the Reporters Without Borders list of “internet enemies” since 2006, and as one of the 10 worst countries to be a blogger according to the Committee to Protect Journalists in 2009.Security services have used detentions and harassment, and in some cases torture, to intimidate online writers, and a growing number of bloggers have spent time in jail. In February 2007, Abd al-Karim Nabil Suleiman (widely known by his blogging name, Karim Amer), then a 22-year-old student of religious law at Al-Azhar University, became Egypt’s first blogger to be sentenced to prison for his online writings. A court in Alexandria handed Suleiman a four-year prison term on charges of “inciting hatred of Islam” and “insulting the president.”29 He was released in November 2010.
Those who have been detained for shorter periods include Esraa Abdel Fattah, the creator of the Facebook group calling for the general strike on April 6, 2008. She was detained for two weeks that month on charges of “inciting unrest,” but the charges were dropped by the prosecutor.30 Also in 2008, Hany Nazeer was detained for a blog post that included a link to a book seen as insulting to Islam. He was kept in detention under the Emergency Law for 21 months before finally being released in July 2010.31 In February 2010, blogger Ahmed Mostafa was detained and slated for trial before a military court, despite being a civilian, after he wrote about alleged abuses by the Egyptian army. The military abruptly dropped the case in March, however.32 A Cairo appeals court in February reversed a lower court’s November 2009 decision to sentence blogger Wael Abbas to six months in prison and a fine for allegedly damaging an internet cable, but in March an economic court gave him an identical sentence for providing telecommunications service without authorization.Internet activists have rallied around the case of Khaled Said, a 28-year-old who was allegedly beaten to death in June 2010 by two plainclothes policemen who dragged him Reporters Without Borders, “Internet Enemies: Egypt,” March 12, 2010, http://en.rsf.org/internet-enemie-egypt,36679.html; Committee to Protect Journalists, “10 Worst Countries To Be a Blogger,” special report, April 30, 2009, http://www.cpj.org/reports/2009/04/10-worst-countries-to-be-a-blogger.php.
Reporters Without Borders, “Internet Enemies: Egypt.” ANHRI, “Woman Detained for Promoting General Strike on Facebook, Released; Student Briefly Detained for Urging Release of Internet Activists,” IFEX, April 24, 2008, http://www.ifex.org/egypt/2008/04/24/woman_detained_for_promoting_general/.
John Ehab, “Controversial Blogger Released by Authorities,” Al-Masry al-Youm, July 27, 2010, http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/news/controversial-blogger-released-authorities.
ANHRI, “Authorities Close Case Against Blogger Ahmed Mostafa,” IFEX, March 11, 2010, http://www.ifex.org/egypt/2010/03/11/mostafa_case_closed/; ANHRI, “Blogger Tried in Military Court,” IFEX, March 2, 2010, http://www.ifex.org/egypt/2010/03/02/mostafa_military_court/.
Committee to Protect Journalists, “Egyptian Blogger Abbas, Cleared Once, Is Convicted Anew,” news release, March 11, 2010, http://cpj.org/2010/03/egyptian-blogger-abbas-cleared-once-is-convicted-a.php.
EGYPT FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net from an internet cafe. The officers—now on trial for illegal arrest, torture, and excessive force, but not for murder—claimed that he choked to death while trying to swallow illegal drugs. He had reportedly posted a video on the internet showing policemen sharing the spoils of a drug bust, raising suspicions that he had been targeted for that reason.34 A Facebook group called “We Are All Khalid Said” has garnered over 200,000 supporters (see also “Limits on Content”), and organized several offline demonstrations and protests, in which thousands of youths all over Egypt wore black and stood silently with their backs to the street.
In one of the most recent examples of government’s misuse of power, Youssef Shabaan, a journalist for the online news outlet Al-Badil, was arrested in November while covering street protests in Alexandria and charged with drug possession. According to various independent groups, the charges against Shabaan were made up to punish him for his critical coverage of police brutality during the protests. “Egypt Police in Brutality Trial over Khaled Said Death,” British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), July 27, 2010, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-10773404; Kareem Fahim, “Death in Police Encounter Stirs Calls for Change in Egypt,” New York Times, July 18, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/19/world/middleeast/19abuse.html.
“Egypt Detains Journalist on Drug Charges in Alexandria,” Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), November 22, 2010, http://cpj.org/2010/11/egypt-detains-journalist-on-drug-charges-in-alexan.php.
EGYPT FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net ESTONIA 2009 POPULATION: 1.3 million INTERNET FREEDOM Free Free INTERNET PENETRATION: 72 percent STATUS WEB 2.0 APPLICATIONS BLOCKED: No Obstacles to Access 3 SUBSTANTIAL POLITICAL CENSORSHIP: No Limits on Content 2 BLOGGERS/ONLINE USERS ARRESTED: No Violations of User Rights 8 PRESS FREEDOM STATUS: Free Total 13 INTRODUCTION Estonia ranks among the most wired and technologically advanced countries in the world.
However, when it regained independence in 1991 after nearly 50 years of Soviet rule, its infrastructure was in disastrous condition. President Toomas Hendrik Ilves remarked in 2008 that the Soviet legacy essentially necessitated Estonia’s rapid technological development as it sought to integrate with the global economy.1 The first internet connections in the country were introduced in 1992 at academic facilities in Tallinn and Tartu, and the government subsequently worked with private and academic entities to initiate a program called Tiger Leap, which aimed to computerize and establish internet connections in all Estonian schools by 2000. This program helped to build general competence and awareness about information and communication technologies (ICTs).