Egypt has recently been following in the footsteps of oppressive governments regimes, such as: Russia and China by practicing internet censorship at an unprecedented rate as the ongoing conflict with Qatar escalates. According to the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, an Egyptian government watchdog, more than 60 online news portals and media platforms; including Mada Masr, Al Jazeera and local newspapers Daily News Egypt, Al-Borsa, and Al-Mesryoon have been blocked in an internet crusade since last May for spreading “fake news” and promoting terrorism as claimed by the Egyptian government.
“The latest clampdown on digital media is further evidence of Egypt’s age-old police state tactics in motion. Even in the darkest days of the repressive Mubarak era the authorities didn’t cut off access to all independent news sites,” said Najia Bounaim, Amnesty International’s North Africa Campaigns director.
Yanair Gate is the latest to be added to the list of blocked websites in Egypt. The website is known for publishing critical articles in Arabic including spotlight on rising oppositions regarding a deal el-Sissi made to hand over two islands to Saudi Arabia.
According to the Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE),”Al-Masry Al-Youm Newspaper published a report, From a Sovereign Authority, on May 25th of this year. The report illustrates the experiences of countries (Arab and foreign) who have blocked previously blocked websites, in order to justify the Government of Egypt’s decision. ”
“The report demonstrates the reasons for blocking websites in countries all around the world, and limits them to the following: Terrorism, ‘prostitution’, illegal immigration, and money laundering. Meanwhile, the vast majority of the websites blocked in Egypt are news and media platforms.”, it added.
On Tuesday (June 13th), the Egyptian government has extended its efforts to reinforce its internet sovereignty by blocking VPN providers as well to restrict any possible access to the banned websites since VPN services allow users to bypass any geo-retractions and unblock any restricted web content on the internet by encrypting their traffic and concealing their real IP address. 5 major VPN providers in addition to the online publishing platform “Medium”are completely inaccessible in Egypt so far: Cyberghost, Tunnelbear, TigerVPN, ZenVPN and HSSElite.
TigerVPN founder Sebastian Scherl commented on this alarming situation, saying, “It is regrettable that some customers in Egypt experience difficulties accessing our service.” and that “It goes without saying that we are already working on multiple solutions especially in our apps to provide some workaround to these blocks and we are committed to continue the fight that we started in 2011 to provide an open Internet access for anyone, anywhere.”
Telecommunication companies and internet service providers in Egypt, including: Orange, TE Data, Vodafone and Noor were contacted by the AFTE regarding this round of blocks and claimed that these outages are due to website failures. It should be noted that this type of online censorship is against Article 57 of the Egyptian constitution which protects freedom of expression, press and media, except at times of war and military mobilization. Furthermore, according to the law, Egyptian citizens have the right to use all kinds of telecommunication tools.
According to Amnesty International, “Representatives of many of the websites affected have filed complaints with the Press Syndicate, the National Council for Media, the Ministry Communications and the Public Prosecutor, but so far received no response. Mada Masr has filed an appeal against the decision to block its website before an administrative court, but it has not yet heard the appeal.”
As the ring of internet censorship tightens, VPN companies are witnessing an exponential growth in the use of their VPN services. This also encourages the establishment of more VPN providers that can fight censorship and online restriction to provide users with a free, secure and unrestricted internet environment. In spite of blocking 5 of the most popularly used VPN service providers, there are hundreds of VPN services in the market used by millions of internet users, such as: bVPN, Wasel Pro, iWasel, IPVanish, PureVPN, ExpressVPN, etc. In light of this fact, the Egyptian government is likely to lose in the internet censorship game because there will be always an alternative to get access to restricted content on the web.