Online Censorship in the Middle East and North Africa



Human Rights Watch has released a report on Internet Censorship in the Middle East. It contains case studies on Egypt, Iran, Syria and Tunisia. The technical testing was conducted by the OpenNet Initiative and the report was written by my friend and colleague Elijah Zarwan at HRW. It was a great pleasure to work with Elijah on this report.

Given recent events in Egypt, where the government has cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood during Parliamentary elections, HRW’s case study is extremely relevant. The banned Muslim Brotherhood has captured 76 seats (its candidates run as independents) in Parliament. The New York Times reports that the Muslim Brotherhood is now “the only significant opposition voice in the next Parliament, and the only opposition group likely to qualify to nominate a candidate to run for president in future elections.”

However, the website of the Muslim Brotherhood, http://www.ikhwanonline.com/, is blocked by the largest ISP in Egypt. HRW reports that the Muslim Brotherhood has changed their IP several times to avoid the blocking and now operate a mirror site that is not blocked. (The Labor Party’s website http://www.alshaab.com is also blocked.) Despite the blocking, the Internet is still a key tool in organizing.

Banned groups are now using third-party sites they do not officially endorse—public bulletin boards, chat rooms, and so on—to coordinate their activities.

I think that this case shows that the effectiveness of filtering is its use in combination with overlapping mechanisms — technical, legal and political — of social control. The technical filtering is a reminder of what content is acceptable — what the range of debate should be. But the technology loses its effectiveness when the other mechanisms of this control fade.

One comment.

  1. Nart – Thanks for the kind words. Just a quick, but important update: since we concluded our research, the filter on the Brotherhood Web site has been lifted, and indeed the Brotherhood’s ring of highly professional, often-updtated sites in Arabic and English are now available in Egypt.

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