Since May 24, more than 114 websites have been blocked in Egypt, and this number keeps growing. The reason being that the Egyptian government is cracking down on both international and local digital outlets.
A majority of the blocked websites are news websites, since the Egyptian government wants to quell controversy and the spread of news. But there are also websites that are blocked that include information on anonymity, encryption, and international communication. Blocked websites include huge names like Mada Masr, Al Borsa, Huffington Post Arabic, and multiple websites linked to Al Jazeera. The outage is also affecting Tor, and VPN services. Additionally, the OONI website, the Open Observatory of Network Interference which monitors internet censorship and surveillance has also been blocked.
The government reasons that it’s cracking down on websites that are publishing fake news and false information, thereby supporting the spread of terrorism.Right now, Egypt is still in a state of emergency following attacks on churches that killed over 50 people in April.
Additionally, Egypt is also part of a coalition that has put a blockade on Qatar demanding the closure of the Doha-based Al Jazeera media network which it considers to be a tool for propaganda.
However, while the state of emergency and controversies are serious, it’s still not good that the government is suppressing freedom of speech. By censoring the people’s voices, their concerns can not be heard. This is one reason why many people get frustrated and turn to violence, and already, people in Egypt are accusing the government of failing to disclose judicial or administrative decisions concerning blocked websites.
“Even in the darkest days of the repressive Mubarak era, the authorities didn’t cut off access to all independent news sites,” says Najia Bounaim, the north African campaigns director.
Unsurprisingly, OONI reports that deep packet inspection is being used to monitor and block these websites in Egypt. Mada Masr, one of the blocked websites, reports that the decision was also made centrally, not from the authority of telecom or internet service providers. Here at TorGuard we’ve seen similar tools DPI blockades used in China to censor websites and prevent citizens from accessing current or even past news. However, with TorGuard’s new Stealth VPN tunnel options, and strong encryption methods, you can still access websites in Egypt OR China.
Journalists and news websites are still finding ways around the blocks however, by posting relevant news pieces on Facebook. One of the editors from Mada Masr, one Lina Attalah, says that if they “did something more grave like arresting team members or me it would make big noise, whereas blocking the website is the best way to paralyze us without paying a high price for it.” The scary thing is that Egypt does have a history of jailing journalists.