Internet censorship in Egypt is an increasing the suppression of freedom

Beware, you are being watched… a tweet or opinion that you write through your social media accounts may lead you to find yourself behind bars in Egypt, and the charges are ready and known.

Hundreds of activists and dissidents in Egypt over the past years have been tried and imprisoned for misusing social networking sites, spreading false news on the internet, or insulting state institutions through their accounts. Hundreds of accounts and testimonies of activists and their lawyers while attending investigations at the State Security Prosecution reveal that they are being investigated in their posts and writings on communication platforms and sometimes in personal messages or letters of dialogue.

The Egyptian authorities and the government clearly announce that they monitor the internet and monitor activists’ writing, especially on Facebook, after they led social networking sites to mobilise youth in the January 25 revolution. After the military coup against the first elected civilian president in Egypt’s history in 2013, the government intensified its monitoring of the internet by importing modern surveillance equipment from France and America.

Mamdouh Hamza was imprisoned for six months for something he wrote online; he was added to the terrorist list, just for a tweet he wrote three years ago. The ruling was issued by the Supreme State Security Court on Hamza in absentia, as the famous engineer left Egypt some time ago for fear of arrest after an organised attack by media professionals close to the security services.

Imprisoned for a tweet

The tweet that caused the issuance of a prison sentence for Mamdouh Hamza dates back to July 2017, when he called on Twitter to the people of al-Warraq Island in Giza Governorate to uphold their rights and reject the authority’s campaign to demolish their homes. Clashes had occurred between the people of al-Warraq and the police forces after news of the government’s decision to sell the island to an Emirati company after it evacuated the population. The court has convicted Hamza of inciting violence and the use of force to disturb public order and spread false news, the charges for which thousands of opponents are imprisoned in Egypt and other politicised provisions.

Human rights defenders and opposition figures have criticised Hamza’s ruling, which was issued by Judge Muhammad Sherine Fahmy, who is one of a small group of judges who handle what the regime calls terrorism cases. The so-called terrorism issues are often related to the opposition, especially from the Islamic trend and the Muslim Brotherhood, in the beginning, before the circle widened to include everyone who opposes al-Sisi, even if from within the camp of his supporters. Activists ridiculed the terms of the verdict. The judge tried to write rhetorically, and it provoked ridicule, whether in terms of language or on the part of those who saw it as an exaggeration, it appeared as the basis for a death sentence, not a six-month prison sentence.

Mamdouh Hamza, a famous consulting engineer, is one of the prominent faces of the January 2011 revolution that toppled the late President Hosni Mubarak after 30 years in power. Hamza then became an opponent of the late President Mohamed Morsi and supported the military coup that al-Sisi carried out in 2013 when he was defence minister, which resulted in the suspension of the constitution and Morsi’s removal after one year in power.

Human rights organisations have condemned Hamza’s trial, describing the charges against him as broad and fabricated, lacking evidence, and based on the flawed anti-terrorism and emergency law. The organisations criticised the punishment of opponents and activists for exercising their legitimate right to peaceful expression of opinion through social media. Activists launched the hashtag, “Mamdouh Hamza is not a terrorist,” in solidarity with him, rejecting what they described as a politicised judiciary. Many followers wrote on his personal page expressing their support for him.

Internet monitoring

It is noteworthy that in 2017, French media reports revealed that Amesys, which is being prosecuted by the judiciary on charges of exporting surveillance devices to a dictatorial regime, had exported digital surveillance devices to Egypt with Emirati funding. The censorship system in which the UAE paid 10 million euros to donate it to Egypt is called Cerebro, and it provides live monitoring of users through their electronic devices and enables them to know which websites are being browsed. The monitoring system enables tracking phone calls, text messages, emails, and social media sites.

Concurrently, the government announced the formation of the Supreme Council for Cybersecurity, headed by the Minister of Communications, and its members consist of the Ministries of Defence, Foreign Affairs, Interior, General Intelligence, and many other ministries. Since the announcement of its establishment, many specialists have expressed their fear that the new council will become an official tool to impose new restrictions on the internet in light of the intense ambiguity about the council and its powers.