Blocking news websites in Egypt: The government imposes blackout on failures

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Last Sunday evening, the Egyptian authorities blocked the websites of Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) for several hours after they published reports and news about Egyptian soldiers being held in Sudan by the Rapid Support Forces. This brought the issue of blocked websites in Egypt without legal grounds, which number in the hundreds.

Journalism is a crime

The BBC News Arabic media office confirmed that the Arabic and English versions were blocked in Egypt for hours without explaining why or whether the Egyptian authorities contacted them. Sources in Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper said that the inability of users to access the site began last Saturday evening, with smartphone access disrupted and access through computers difficult. The place was utterly blocked on Sunday. The source suggested that the reason for the blocking was due to the publication on the newspaper’s website of follow-ups and news about Egyptians in Sudan after the outbreak of violent confrontations last Saturday between the army forces and the Rapid Support Forces, and the publication of the report of the detention of Egyptian recruits by the Rapid Support Forces in the city of Meroe, northern Sudan.

In statements to the Al-Manassa website, the source added, “The work was published, but it was just half an hour, and we began to notice a problem. I believe the reason is the publication of a statement by a media official in the Rapid Support Forces about the situation of the Egyptian soldiers they are holding.” After the site returned to work, it was noticed that a piece of news titled “The Sudanese Rapid Support Forces” by Al-Masry Al-Youm was deleted: We appreciate the Egyptian Armed Forces and the handover of the military group to it soon.

Hundreds of websites are blocked

In May 2017, the Egyptian authorities began a massive campaign to block news and human rights websites from inside and outside Egypt. Since then, the number of websites that have been blocked has reached at least 549. The websites most affected by this blocking are independent journalistic websites such as Mada Masr, Al-Manassa, and Daraj, and websites affiliated with the Egyptian opposition abroad, such as Rassd, Arabi 21, and Al-Araby Al-Jadeed. Ironically, the new head of the Syndicate of Journalists, Professor Khaled Al-Balshi, is the editor-in-chief of the “Darb” website, which is blocked in the country. Also among the blocked websites are the “Amnesty International” website, the “Human Rights Watch” website, the “Cairo Center for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)” website, the “Reporters Without Borders” website, and many other websites of organizations and institutions dealing with human rights and political rights and the deteriorating civilization in Egypt.

Many press institutions could not overcome the economic effects resulting from the blocking, which led to the suspension of their work and the final dismissal of workers, such as Al-Tahrir, Al-Badeel, Al-Bidaya, and Masr Al-Arabiya. Actors in the media field have not played a significant role in pressuring the various state agencies to stop the widespread practices of blocking press/media websites and among these bodies: the Journalists Syndicate, the Supreme Council for Media, the Media Syndicate, and the two national bodies for press and media.

Despite the issuance of legislation that legalizes the blocking of journalistic/media websites, no one knows until this moment who is responsible for implementing the blocking officially and the tools used in that, except some websites that were blocked by a decision of the Committee for the Inventory and Management of the Funds of the Muslim Brotherhood or by a decision of the Supreme Media Council, which numbered 44 sites. The political analyst, Abd al-Rahman al-Deeb, believes that the primary goal of blocking all these press and human rights websites is to “control the content that Egyptians see on the Internet.” It considered that “this blocking is an essential part of the government’s plan to control the media and the Internet, which began years ago by nationalizing most private media outlets and subjecting them to the authority of the General Intelligence Service.”