"Yes, we practice censorship... so that he who is afraid will not talk"
|Saturday, December 23,2006 00:00|
|By HRinfo - Cairo, Egypt|
"Yes, we practice censorship... so that he who is afraid will not talk"
Habib Al-Adely, Minister of Interior
Saut Al-Omma newspaper, Issue 257, 31/10/2005
Egypt has the largest population in the region and is one of its most important countries. The President of republic is Hosni Mubarak, who has been in power since 1981. The National Democratic Party (NDP), headed by President Mubarak, is the governing political party. It dominates the political scene and allows no real opponent voices to be heard.
During the last five years, voices and movements calling for political reform and the elimination of the dominance of the governing party have increased. These voices are particularly concerned about the ongoing use of the Emergency Law which has been in force since 1981. Despite all these calls for reform, the governing powers still have not show any real intent to implement anything more that superficial reforms. The parliamentary elections of 2005 witnessed many violations, including violence against supervising magistrates and murder of some citizens in clashes on elections day.
In 2006, alleged amendments were applied to the Press Law. For years, journalists have been calling for the elimination of the articles of Press Law which allow the imprisonment of journalists for writing. However, the amendments did not change these articles in either Press Law or Penal Code. In the same year, judges called for a new law which provides for genuine independency of the judiciary, so that they can act as one of the three pillars of the state as was provided for in the Egyptian Constitution. The Executive Authority denied this demand.
In 2006, State Security Service (SSS) attempted to put all the voices calling for political reform and the ‘refuse inheritance project’ under control (that is a movement which aims to stop Hosni’s son becoming the next President). Police forces also suppressed most of the peaceful protests, and arrested dozens of supporters of judicial independence, including bloggers. The political protests in Egypt, over the last two years, are marked by increasing use of the internet as a media channel capable of avoiding the restrictions placed on the traditional media. The Kefaya website appeared in parallel with Kefaya political movement, the Muslim Brotherhood group created many websites, and blogging activities have significantly flourished.
Access to the internet
The Egyptian government is doing its best to turn Egypt into a the regional information technology center in order to attract more foreign investment. President Mubarak, who controls everything in Egypt, announced "The National Project for Technological Renaissance" in 1999. The project aims at producing this technology in Egypt, and creating wide knowledge of information technology. The project started with a national campaign calling for technological literacy in schools, universities, and governmental departments (1).
Following this the first ministry specialized in information technology was established in the same year (2). Dr. Ahmed Nazif achieved many successes through his position as Minister of Telecommunication which is why he was chosen to become a Cabinet Minister in July 2004.
The latest statistics from 2005 reveal that the Egypt population is 74 million people. There are some 10.2 million terrestrial phone subscribers in comparison with 6.4 million in 1999.. The telecommunication service is monopolized by the state-owned Telecom Egypt Company. There were some 14 million mobile phone service subscribers by the beginning of 2006. This service is provided by the private sector, Mobinil and Vodafone. The National Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (NTRA) licensed UAE Etisalat Company to provide the service in 4 July with a capital of 16.7 billion Egyptian Pounds (2.9 billion dollars). The number of public information technology clubs is now up to 1,293. There are some 1,979 companies working in the field of information technology in the Egyptian market (3).
Concerning internet service, the number of internet users is in the region of 5.3 million users; all of them receive the service through 211 internet service provider companies. Link and TEData are the largest in the telecommunication field in Egypt (4). The former is a private sector company founded in 1992 with the name "InTouch" was the first internet service provider in Egypt, while the latter is a joint-stock state-owned company (5)(6).
Internet service entered Egypt in late 1993 following the Information and Decision Making Support Center affiliated to the Egyptian Cabinet. At the beginning of 1997, the center started to privatize internet services by licensing Internet Service Provider (ISPs) companies. Following this these ISPs sold the service to other clients. In 1997, the Egyptian market had 16 private ISPs connected with each other via the Telecom Egypt web portals.
For the government to achieve this leap, many initiatives were taken to spread the use of the internet. The most important was "Free Internet Initiative" in 2002 which aimed at providing internet access at the same cost of ordinary phone call. The project was adopted by the Ministry of Telecommunication in partnership with Telecom Egypt and the internet service providers. The profits are divided 30% - 70% between Telecom Egypt and the other ISPs, respectively (7). Another initiative entitled "A PC for Each House" enabled 12,000 people to own a personal computer (PCs) with internet access in 2004. The banks, other financers, and private assembly companies also participated in this initiative (8).
Information Technology Clubs which are open for citizens in youth centers, public libraries, NGOs headquarters, Culture Palaces, Schools, and Universities are equipped with a computer network in order to provide the service for both youth and children at a very low cost (9).
The government launched ADSL service in May 2004, through the initiative of President Mubarak announced at the Telecom Africa Conference in 2004. The initiative was established by seven companies (10). The monthly subscription cost for 256K was 150 L.E at the beginning (1 dollar=5.7 L.E). The cost decreased to 95 L .E per month as of 13 June 2006. Currently there are 130,000 subscribers to this service. The Minister of Telecommunications, Tarek Kamel announced the launching of the first stage of liberating the Egyptian telecommunication market by invited companies interested in establishing, maintaining, and operating international cables in Egypt to bid for services in July (11).
Egypt witnessed a unique phenomenon in respect with ADSL networks. Some people subscribe to the service and then sub-distribute it on others (neighbors participate in paying the cost of one line and then distribute sub-lines to each one). DR. Tarek Kamel stated that in the international average, each one ADSL lines is used by 3 persons. However, in Egypt sometimes 10-12 people use only one line. This has made it hard to indicate the number of ADSL service users (12).
In the same context, NTRA cooperated with the Egyptian ISPs to prevent citizens from sub-distributing the service provided to their homes to others living in the same building. Procedures included imposing a fine as a penalty on the violators. Ahmed Osama, manager of governmental relationships in TEData, said that this step is good for the prospected service development (13).
The Egyptian government launched electronic government project in 2001 with the purpose to provide services for citizens and investors via internet and to avoid bureaucracy by constructing the Egypt Gate website www.egypt.gov.eg . The government also established the Smart Village upon the Decree no. 355/2000, in order to provide a special place for the companies working in Information Technology field to develop the telecommunication market (14).
With these huge efforts, the number of internet users has increased significantly. People became more interested in the internet because of the ease of accessing it from many places and the low cost of subscription In small towns and popular areas the use of the internet in internet cafés costs just 1 L.E per hour. It is ironic for Egypt to see internet cafés and computer clubs affiliated to the Ministry of Telecommunication in the areas deprived from essential utilities and facilities such as drinking water and sanitary drainage.
With the increase of this interest in internet, the number of Egyptian bloggers increased. It turned into one of the characteristics of the technological revolution and how to use the internet as a free media. It is used for political protest against the Egyptian government. The number of Egyptian blogs is amounted to 1417 blogs registered in Egy-Bloggers Circle www.egybloggers.com in addition to hundreds of unregistered blogs. Some blogs achieved great fame among internet users, and became an essential information source as it reveals the news that semi-formal media is not interested in. That led authorities to attempt to suppress bloggers.
Communication and Internet Law
Despite the intensive efforts exerted by the government to attract investments in information technology, there is limited legislation. One can say that there is a clear legislative hole in the cases of electronic publishing and internet crimes. With the existence of this electronic emptiness, authorities use "exceptional" procedures (which becomes the norm after time). However, they are always illegal.
Article 66 of Chapter 4 of the Egyptian Constitution stipulates that "no crime and no penalty may be awarded out of law, and no penalty may be awarded to the violations committed before affecting the respective law". However, Egypt ‘criminalizes’ some online activities although there are no legal stipulations that criminalize them.
Egypt issued law no. 10/4 February 2003 known as "Telecommunications Regulation Act" (15). Upon this law, the National Telecommunication Regulation Authority was established. This role of this authority is to administer the telecommunications utilities. Some of the articles of the law criminalize some of the ways of using telecommunication facilities. However, the law does not handle the online publishing issue.
Article 64 of the same law, stipulates that "considering the full right to privacy which is protected by law, every internet service provider or operator must provide on his own account the technical devices which enables armed forces and national security forces to practice its role according to law, provided that the required technical devices are made available at the same time as the license. Further that the service providers or their marketing agents are obliged to gather precise information and data about users".
Article 37 stipulates that the telecommunication employees who commit any of the following actions will be punished by either or both imprisonment for at least three months and a fine not less than 5,000 but not more than 50,000 Egyptian Pounds:
Broadcasting, publishing or recording a telecommunication message upon without legal basis.
Enclosing, changing, hindering, or modifying any telecommunication message or any part of it.
Failing purposefully to send a telecommunication message after entitling someone to send it.
Disclosing any private information related to telecommunication networks or the communications they receive.
While discussing this law before announcing it, a large problem appeared. The text of the suggested article 64 allowed the authorities to spy on citizens’ phone calls without any limitations. After the majority denied this text, it was agreed that citizen’s phone calls may be listened to only following "judicial permission". This can only be given if it will help to prove a certain crime that carries a penalty of more than three year in prison. The same procedures are applied to censoring some internet websites (16). However, the final text is rather ambiguous and limited to obligating internet service provider companies to install the equipment and software required to allow the security bureaus to practice "their role within the limitations of law". Though, it is claimed, the sentence "upon the prosecutor’s permission" was not mentioned in documents (17).
The Telecommunication act also stipulates that encoding is prohibited unless many security bureaus permit it. Article 64 stipulates that telecommunication service providers and their affiliates and users may not use any encoding devices without having the permission of the authority, Armed Forces, and National Security Bureau. This law does not apply to the encoding device used by Television and Radio transmits.
Law no. 82/2002 on "Intellectual Property Rights" is added to other telecommunications regulatory laws. It provides a framework to protect publishing and innovation copyrights (18).
Law no. 15/2004 on "regulating electronic signatures and establishing the Information Technology Development Program" was issued with the purpose of increasing investment into the field of electronic trading (19). Ministerial Decree no. 327/2005 permitted the establishment of a committee affiliated to the Information Technology Development Authority. This committee will be liable for forming technical and legal sub-committees to draft legal stipulations detailing online crimes (20). This law has not appeared yet.
Hacking electronic systems and the data of the Civil Affairs Authority are criminalized in article 76 of civil affairs law no. 143/1994. The article stipulates imprisonment with temporary hard labor for the person who breaks or attempts to break the confidentiality of the data or statistics collected in any way. The punishment is increased to imprisonment with permanent hard labor if the crime is committed in the time of war (21).
News was circulated that Shura Council is going to issue a new law on "controlling" internet in Egypt. Law professor and member of Shura Council, Dr. Shawky Al-Sayed stated that the council is working on drafting a law to criminalize the illegal use of the internet. In other words, using the internet should be subject to certain regulations and should not exceed "the limits of knowledge". He also mentioned that internet usage should not be limited to "broadcasting false and confusing information" in addition to hacking and "defaming public figures (22)".
Taking into consideration the intellectual property rights act which addresses "hacking ideas", we may expect a new law including more restrictions on freedom of expression, internet access, and the exchanging information according to the statements from the officials working on issuing this new law. It clearly reveals the real purpose of this law.
Egyptian constitution includes many stipulations which guarantee the rights of citizens (41, 42, 45, 47, 48, 54 and 57). These articles all relate to citizens’ freedoms and rights such as the right to privacy, freedom of expression, freedom, personal security, etc.
These stipulations are not implemented in reality. The Emergency Law is applied instead. This law fetters these basic freedoms. Article 2 of Emergency Law is one of the most serious ones, as it stipulates that it is permissible to "censor messages of any kind and newspapers, flyers, printouts, editorials, cartoons, and other tools of expression and advertisements”. They may also be hindered or closed or confiscated. Censorship on press and media are limited to public safety and national security purposes.
This is the law that regulates life in Egypt and reflects on all activities and human rights for almost a quarter of a century. The vast powers given to security men by this law are applicable to the internet.
Blocking websites in Egypt is practiced without any legal procedures or clarification of the reason for the blocking. That is why blocked websites owners cannot legally react to the authorities when their websites are blocked. The only case when the authorities have been challenged is that of journalist "Ahmed Hareedy" Editor of Al-Mithaq Al-Araby electronic newspapers. The website was established in 2001 as an information channel for intellectuals and truth seekers, according to website creator.
On 1 September 2004, Hareedy discovered that his website was blocked within Egypt. He filed a legal claim on 22 September 2004, number 34781, calling for the unblocking his website. Hareedy filed the claim against the Minister of Telecommunications and Executive Director of NTRA.
In court on 23 November 2004, lawyers of the defendants (Cabinet Minister and Minister of Telecommunications) confessed that Al-Mithaq Al-Araby website is blocked. The defendants submitted a memorandum charging NTRA of blocking that website. The lawyer of NTRA charged the Information and Decision Making Center. Eventually, the court decided to postpone the claim to notify Information Center and to receive the memorandums of the Al-Mithaq Al-Araby lawyer.
The Director of Information and Decision Making Support Center was involved as a third party after the other governmental authorities assured that it was liable for blocking. The court hearings continued for almost two years before the court awarded the final judgment on 13 June 2006. There were no positive surprises in it at all. The arbitrator mentioned that the Egyptian legislation do not include any stipulations that allow governmental authorities to block any website. Then he said that this legal hole does not violate the right of governmental bureaus to cause internet service providers to block any website that may negatively affect the national security or supreme state interests.
The court mentioned that websites may be blocked as a result of them being hacked and there files damaged. Another reason may be the completion or termination of the hosting contract, when the website threatens the national security and supreme state interests, according to Law 10/2003. Moreover, the plaintiff party was not able to provide evidence that the website is blocked within Egypt. The defendants had blocked the website, which made it impossible for the plaintiff to gather any evidence (23).
The importance of this judgment is that it was the first of its kind and hence set the precedence. However, it showed the legal holes in website blocking regulations. The lawyers of governmental authorities also confessed that they practice blocking. The Judge’s opinion was that "the authority has the right to block websites affecting the national security and supreme state interests”.
Censorshipand Website Blocking
Egyptian government does not "fully block" the internet. In comparison with traditional media, the internet is relatively free. The vast majority of internet users in Egypt can realize that the authorities are controlling the internet in an undeclared and "intangible" way.
Blocking websites, although limited, is an ordinary procedure in Egypt. Blocking is implemented without declaring the legal reasons for it. Al-Sha’ab newspaper issued by Labor Party for example was blocked by the government in 2000. However, the newspaper continued to publish its issues regularly online. Consequently, authorities prevented access to its website, but readers used a proxy device to access it. Blocking the website for the first time went in parallel with questioning Labor Party Secretary General, Magdy Ahmed Hussein following the communiqué filed by vice cabinet minister and Minister of Agriculture Yusuf Waly who accused Magdy of posting seven articles which defamed him on the electronic version of the newspaper.
Despite the fact that the government is severely criticized for blocking websites, it does not even announce the reasons for blocking. The Liberties Committee of the Journalists’ Syndicate in Egypt condemned the blocking of Al-Sha’ab website and considered it a crime against Egypt and that it reflected a hatful image of the governance structure which contradicts the democracy that is aspired to by honest citizens (24). After years of blocking the authorities realized that blocking is useless as long as visitors can skip it by using other proxy servers. The websites of Al-Sha’ab ( http://al-shaab.org ) and Egyptian Labor Party ( www.el-3amal.com ) were unblocked early in November 2006 by TEData which is the company that does the most blocking.
Among the websites suffering blocking within Egypt is "Ikhwan Online" website ( www.ikhwanonline.com ). It is the official website of the Muslim Brotherhood Group which is one of the largest opposition groups in Egypt. The website was blocked on 1 September 2004 within Egypt. The First Deputy General Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Habib said that such action contradicts the freedom of media and freedom of expression. It also proves that there is no true intent to "achieve reform by Egyptian regime". Three months before the blocking, security forces attacked its webmasters office and took 21 computers (25).
Website Editor, Abdul Galil Al-Sharnoby confirmed that blocking is implemented only within Egypt and that it is implemented "purposefully". Website press release asserted that the authority responsible for blocking websites is the Cabinet of Ministries which supervises the four ISPs in Egypt (26).
The Muslim Brotherhood took practical steps to avoid repeat blockings in the future. They created many other websites, so that the blocking their official website is of no great importance. Consequently, the website was unblocked, but they did not stop creating more new websites of which there are now18.
With the appearance and escalation of the political controversies on the "governance inheritance" plans of Gamal Mubarak the son of the current president Hosni Mubarak, the anti-inheritance websites are usually blocked. Most of them are web forums like "Egyptian Talks" ( www.egyptiantalks.org ) affiliated to Al-Wafd opposition party. The conversations which ran on this website broke the "red lines" of the traditional media.
Despite the clear oppositional ideas adopted by such website, administrators separated the citizen’s right to criticize and the illegitimacy of defamation. The provisions of the website stipulate clearly that "the personal life of public figure should not be discussed with the purpose of insult or defamation". Also they announced that the website is not responsible for the posted opinions (27).
The same problem was faced by Masreyat web forum which is believed to be blocked because it contains materials from the opposition in addition to the space of freedom granted through it (28). Also, the London-based Save Egypt Front ( www.saveegyptfront.org ) was blocked on January 2006. The SEF spokesman, Osama Rushdy mentioned that security forces blocked the website in order to "prevent citizens from reviewing our activities and press releases" and that "this police procedure will not block us in the eyes of Egyptians who know how to skip these barriers to practice their right to be informed (29). The website was accessed during the preparation of this research which means that it is unblocked now.
In the same way, Horrya web forum (horrya.invisionzone.com) was blocked within Egypt. It is a political forum which launched an online campaign titled "No Mubarak … No Inheritance" in November 2002. One of the first campaigns launched against inheritance (30).
The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (HRInfo) issued a statement to condemn the blocking of Save Egypt Front website and considers it a new violation of the right to freedom of expression (31). After HRinfo confirmed the partial blocking of the website, it announced in a separate press release that it is concerns about the governmental attacks on websites when the authorities blocked "Egyptian Affairs" website as well (32).
The Hide Park forum was blocked because it dealt with hot political issues. The administrator of the website closed it without declaring the reasons. Some of his relative claimed he did so because he was put under pressure by the security services (33).
The Egyptian blogger, Wael Abass reported that TEData collected information on the internet users who browse the blocked websites. An activist told Abass that during his attempt to visit some blocked websites his Firewall Software warned him that there was an attempt to collect information from his computer (34). He discovered that the source of these endeavors was TEData servers. That is why the blogger believes that this company is not only interested in blocking websites but also spying on citizens and collecting information on them. On another website, the same blogger mentioned that Family Net service provided by TEData to block pornographic websites is also used to prevent access to blogs (35).
Some bloggers are arrested because of there street political activities or their published opinions on the internet. Such was the case of Kareem Amer. The authorities also harassed some bloggers on account of their online posts. They also, applied pressure which led to the blocking some blogs like in the case of Hala Helmy Botrus known as Hala Al-Masry who blogs at halaelmasry.blogspot.com. In her published articles, she accused the political authority of being involved in the attacks against Christians in Al-Adiesat village of Luxor (36).
The harassments practiced on Hala Butrus was also extended to her family. When her father was going home in Quena, he was beaten by unidentified men who left him a message saying that "this is a gift from your daughter". The house of Hala who is a human rights activist was also searched and her husband was arrested and forced to sign a pledge to be present before prosecution during her stay in Cairo in June 2006. Authorities accused Hala of "disturbing the national security, community peace, and spreading false information". This forced her to close the blog. She said that she is still watched by under cover policemen who also continue to spy on her email and mobile phone (37).
In 2002, the Ministry of Interior established a private unit titled "Fighting Computer and World Wide Web Crimes". Internet users call this unit the "Internet Police". The purpose of this unit is to monitor and follow-up technological crimes using the "latest and most precise technical systems" (38).
The Assistant Minister of Interior and Manager of Public Department for Information and Documentation General Samy Bahnasawy mentioned that some people misused the technological development and have started to commit crimes. He also added that "internet crimes appeared and some people created websites to defame others or to defame the image of the state" so "there are work groups in the new department entitled to follow up internet problems daily. If they catch any violations or illegal practices that may disturb the public order of the country, they cooperate with other competent departments to eliminate this violation" (39). It is noteworthy that this new department has an internet website ( www.ccd.gov.eg ); it has a web page including Department phone numbers and an email to encourage citizens to contact the Ministry of Interior if they discovered any online violations.
According to Public Department for Information and Documentation manager General Mustafa Rady said that they have certain mechanisms to deal with suspicious websites. Concerning those broadcasted from within Egypt, "the procedures are based on technical follow-up process and arresting the doers". The legal procedures are based on Egyptian Penal Code. Most of the crimes are subject to Penal Code and regulated by Electronic Law". Moreover, Egypt does not have the so-called Electronic Law mentioned by the General. He also asserted that "there is no special law [for theses new crimes], so a new law draft is prepared right now" (40).
This new department has been active since 2002, as many activists and journalist have been arrested (41).
The Ministry of Interior censors telecommunication means without any legal documents or clear procedures. Minister of Interior, Habib Al-Adly announced in many occasions about the sectarian riots in Alexandria in 2005. He said that the Ministry "monitored" exchanged online messages calling for incitements. That is why security forces moved to control the situation (42). This statement reveals that the Ministry of Interior censors emails. In a rare TV interview with ’Halat Hewar" show broadcasted on Egyptian official TV channels, Al-Adly said "who is afraid would rather not to talk", in response to a question on the censorship of phone calls of activists and citizens (43).
In addition to the administration fighting the internet crimes, bloggers circulated information of the building of a new department affiliated to the Ministry of Interior to "fight" bloggers activism (44). Despite this news not being confirmed yet denied officially, it is certain that the Ministry of interior censors bloggers (45).
During the last five years, dozens of cases were brought on account of using the internet. Most of them are related to defamation, sending emails including defamation, hacking websites, and electronic fraud. The departments entitled to accept these cases are the Morals Police, Artistic Works Detective, and the Internet Police. In 2005, the first sentence was awarded in an internet defamation crime. Al-Nozha Misdemeanor Court sentenced the Palestinian national Faisal Adnan to six months in prison for posting pornographic photos and personal information about woman from the Gulf on the internet. The case started with a communiqué referred by the girl to Artistic Works Police (46).
The hacking into the Rose al-Yusif magazine website in late 2005 is considered a good example for these crimes and police procedures. The Legal Council of Rose al-Yusif magazine filed a communiqué to the computer and World Wide Web crimes unit that an unidentified person had hacked the magazine website. Department officers worked on "analyzing and technically inspecting" the IPs of the hacked computers. After intensive investigations and information gathering, the perpetrator was discovered. Officers went to the company in which the accused was working. Upon examination of the computer evidences was obtained that it was the user who broke the "Rose al-Yusif" website. The prosecution decided to hold him in custody for four days pending investigation (47). It is clear that the prosecutor did not mention the "technical analysis" or "gathering information" or "tracking communications" that it has a legal order to do this. That emphasizes the lack of any judicial order to proceed during these procedures and carried out a situation repeated in most cases of this kind.
For these reasons, Al-Zaitoon Court of Misdemeanors in 2006 acquitted the the young perpetrator who had allegedly hacked the website of Arab Organization for Administrative Development Unit of the League of Arab States on the Internet. This hack had resulted in a disruption of the protection of the site and an amendment to certain files (48)
Egyptian efforts have not stopped in the "fight against freedom of expression” via the Internet but went even further in the cooperation with other Arab countries in the "fight". During the convention of the Arab Interior Ministers Council in Tunisia in January 2006, the Egyptian Interior Minister, offered a proposal to merge the Arab efforts to work on a Security Council resolution. This would oblige the States followed by the institutions and the biggest international companies engaged in the management and operation of information and communication networks to close websites broadcasting information and data concerning the manufacturing or using weapons, as well as websites that broadcast extremist ideologies (49).
Seventeen human rights organizations announced their rejection of the attempts of Arab Interior Ministers to enact legislations giving them the right to close websites under the claim of fighting against terrorism, especially since the Egyptian and Tunisian are famous for antagonism to the internet, The human rights organizations said that the closure of any website must not be done without proper legal procedures (50).
Egypt has also cooperated with the Saudis to draft a project proposal for the formation of a higher committee for electronic media and to operate at the level of Arab States. In the Conference of Arab Ministers of Information, a project which press sources described as aiming to form a committee to hold accountable those who committed ‘excesses’, via the internet was discussed. It will be hosted by the Saudi capital Riyadh, the first meeting of the Committee is to be in December 2006, where the membership of the Committee will be formed and a mechanism of its operation discussed. The Undersecretary of the Ministry of Information and Culture in Saudi Arabia, Abdullah Al-Jasser said that electronic media in the Arab countries is a "risky" media because it is not governed by any clear standards or documents (51).
As of last year, 2005, a disturbing phenomenon appeared. Some "semi-official" major Egyptian institutions imposed internal control on what users browse via them. HRinfo Executive Director, Gamal Eid, in August 2005, clarified that Alexandria Library prevented access to certain websites, such as human rights websites including "Human Rights Watch" and "Amnesty International", as well as e-mail service websites, such as "Yahoo" and "Hotmail". Library officials failed to justify such blockings (52).
HRinfo asserted that the decision even if justified is inconsistent with the role of the library and its great history. It also gives a negative indicator for the retreat of exchanging information. HRinfo called upon those responsible for the library to quickly correct this error (53).
After the publication of the abovementioned press release, several officials of the Library denied this blocking, though witnessed by Eid personally. Therefore, HRinfo issued another statement to express surprise and disapproval of the continuing denial. In August 2005, the statement said: "We are happy that the library eliminated this error. However, library officials insisted that there is no incident. This make us deeply concerned about the credibility of those who made it" (54)
In another case, HRinfo dicovered that the Al-Ahram Press Institution which is the largest press organization in the Middle East and North Africa which serves about 15,000 employees, including a 2,000 journalists has installed "filter"
to prevent journalists from visiting certain websites. On top of this all the "blogs" hosted by Blogger website affiliated to the famous "Google" search engine, which hosted the majority of Egyptian blogs, were ‘filtered’. Gamal Eid, said in a statement by HRinfo that this procedure is "serious and absolutely improper and incompatible with the role of a major media institution" (55).
A few days after the publication of the statement, Al-Ahram unblocked the blogs. Al-Hatibi that they were just filters to prevent employees from access to pornography, children’s games, songs, films, and also blogs which were added to blocking list by "coincidence" (56). The Arab Network for Human Rights Information welcomed the lifting of the ‘filtering’ of blogs and other websites by Al-Ahram, which affects all blogs affiliated to the famous search engine which comprises about 80% of the Egyptian blogs on the Internet (57).
A number of companies providing internet services in Egypt to serve the "domestic internet" allow for optional filtering of the content to block pornographic websites. TEData named the new service "Internet Family" in 2005, which works on preventing websites that are contrary to public morality to protect children where prevention through "charcoal" advanced is continually updated with the rapid change that are occurring on the internet. Yet some voices within the community in calling for the State to withhold "pornographic" websites do so without thinking for a moment of what will be launched by the government to filtering these sites. Amazingly those who demanded that this ban are the very groups that have suffered under government internet restrictions.
In this context, "Saad al-Husseiny" a parliamentary member from "Muslim Brotherhood" bloc requested for information in May 2006 from Dr. Tarek Kamel, the Minister of Communications and Information Technology, calling for the establishment of systems to withhold broadcast of pornographic websites on the internet. Pointing out that these websites are spread widely "which corrupts the morals of the youth", he did so without being aware of the seriousness of what he called for since he also called for the government to "impose restrictions and controls on the messages that are being sent through the mail" (58)!
Arrests on account of using the internet
It may not be easy to link some of the arrest and trials in Egypt and the use of internet. The reason for this is that the charges that have been used are mostly taken from the penal laws and the laws of the press, and there are no direct relationships between them and the use of the network. However, the authorities arrested and trialed a number of persons for the use of the internet. The latest of these cases was that of "Kareem Amer" in November 2006.
- Abdul Kareem Nabeil Soliman (Kareem Amer)
On 6 November 2006 the blogger 22-year-old Abd al-Kareem Nabil Suleiman, was arrested, a former student of Al-Azhar University Faculty of Law he was held for four days pending investigation after questioning about whether the published opinion articles on several websites mainly log at http://karam903.blogspot.com . The Public Prosecution decided on 8 November to continue imprisonment of blogger Kareem Amer for fifteen additional days which is a flagrant violation of the right to hold opinions without interference. The Egyptian Constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ratified by Egypt which is part of Egypt’s domestic legislation.
The case against Karim Amer, (No. 6677/2006 administrative Muharram Bek, Alexandria), included accusations that are clearly unfair since they criminalize freedom of opinion. Karim was accused of broadcasting data and malicious rumors that have ‘disrupted public security’, ‘insulted the President of the Republic’, and ‘incited to overthrow the regime’, a long with other charges of disrespecting Islam.
The investigation which was attended by his lawyer from the Arab Network for Human Rights Information and it has been characterized by serious abuses by the prosecutors in the presence of three of the agents of the Attorney General. The investigation was deeply flawed. Firstly there were three prosecutors rather than the normal one. Secondly they ridiculed Karim and asked him endless irrelevant questions. Thirdly they threatened Karim that if he did not comply with everthing they ask him to do.
It is noteworthy that the security forces had arrested Kareem Amer for 12 days at the end of October 2005 is illegal because of the topics he posted on his own blog, which dealt with the events of the sectarian sedition in the city of Alexandria in the same year.
It is rare today that any Egyptian city or even small village has no internet café. Despite the absence of any firm estimates of the numbers, they can be very approximately estimated to be in the thousands. As an example of these numbers, unofficial reports estimated the number of internet cafes in the "Zagazig" city of Al-Sharqia governorate to 460 Cafés (59).
There are no detailed laws attaches conditions and procedures required for the opening of the activity of internet cafés. Therefore it is not surprising to know that the majority of the cafes in Egypt work without legal authorization. The ministries of "Culture" and "communication" dispute who is liable for these cafés. The Ministry of Culture gave licenses to cafés for a long time.
In 2006 began the features of the disengagement organizational show which ended with the problem of the ministries of "Culture" and "communications" to its assumption of the Ministry of Communications for control and supervision of internet cafés in Egypt. They also have the power to issue licenses for internet cafés (60).
With an absence of laws and regulations, police forces are moving very freely in dealing with internet cafes and without any legal basis. They are frequently threatened to close the cafés if the owners do not respond to the requests "police officer", who can be summarized as a duty to report any activity that the police might deserve their attention.
Khalid, the owner of an Internet café in a small Egyptian governorate said that one night city police officers arrested an Islamic activist who lives beside his Café. After the completion of the process of arrest, the busy force officer called him and took his identification card and then asked him to visit him the next day in his office in the Station, and when Khaled went to get his the card and determine the cause of the summons, officer questioning him about the quality of the customers who come to the café, if they are strangers to the city, and whether the person who was arrested yesterday was from the cafe and other questions. After this dialogue clearly the officer asked the youth to contact him immediately in the event of any strange visit to surf the internet, and also keep a copy of any printed papers if users saw "any strange anomalies".
Major General, "Mustafa Rady" Director of the General Administration of information and documentation said that the Ministry of the Interior is currently working for a national project to organize the work of Internet cafes to be in public places and subject to the work schedule. The Internet cafés are being pursued through various security departments nationwide, and to control what happens (61).
In general, there is registration of names within the cafés, but attempts by the security agencies does not depend on the request for registration, as happened in Luxor for example. When some two years ago the police stressed to the cafés the need to register the names and identity card numbers of visitors to the cafe every day (62),
It is strange that the voices of many other belongs belonged to the ruling party calling for the control of the Internet cafes and the Internet itself, as witnessed by the Local Cairo governorate such claims "because the phenomenon is the proliferation of coffee shops have negative aspects and ethical" The Council demanded that the issuance of licenses for this activity from the neighborhood just relaxation shops. They also called for setting a minimum age for visitors of these cafes and forcing it to record the names of visitors accredited and prove their identities (63). He asked aldermen Qena, Upper Egypt, the need to reduce the "Internet clubs and non-licensing only after the application of the law regulating this and the need for the commitment of those shops work schedules consultations planned for the rest of the shops and the need to intensify campaigns and follow-up activities to ensure its adherence to the law" (64).
According to some unofficial reports, most attendees of internet cafes are young men. Girls also visit cafes freely, especially in Cairo and other big cities. The summer is the season of crowded cafes more than others. The use of the cafe, often for the purpose of "chat" and the exchange of electronic messages. The majority of the cafés also provide computer game, which is the most visible activity in most of these cafes (65), especially in working-class neighborhoods and small towns.
In 2005 police used a new method of trying to collect information on Internet cafes, where users were told to write their names and phone numbers. The managers of these cafes, the situation described by the Arab Network for Human Rights Information as a "cheap trick to get this information" and that "Ahmed Nazif", the Prime Minister is responsible - at the very least - for these violations perpetrated by the Egyptian police (66).