On Saturday, August 18th a cybercrime legislation was ratified by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, which will allow the Egyptian government to block websites deemed dangerous to the state. Originally approved by Parliament in May, this bill specifically targets those who either visit or run these websites. While decisions can be appealed, anyone caught visiting a banned site would face at least one year in prison along with a fine. Conversely, an individual found guilty for sharing content will face at least two years in state prison. Additionally, this bill requires internet companies to hand over personal information when requested by judicial order and also bans info on security forces. The Egyptian government finds this law vital to combat cyber threats and to keep the cyberspace safe. Opponents to this law, however, believe this to be one of many actions by the Egyptian government to crush dissent and to censor the people.
Official statements by both government officials and those who have worked closely with the press further confirm the diverging beliefs behind this legislation. According to Al Jazeera, President Sisi finds this law crucial to prevent those from “inciting violating the law, violence or hatred,” in a move to reassure those that the ratification of the law is simply for the sake of preventing further instability. Najia Bounaim, Amnesty International’s North Africa director of campaigns claims that this legislation is simply allowing the government to further suppress an already silenced population, where, “people from all levels of Egyptian society have been persecuted for Facebook posts, tweets, artwork…” Additionally, the Human Rights Watch has condemned the Sisi regime for utilizing state of emergency and anti-terrorism laws as an excuse to prosecute the press, saying that, “Egypt is combining a bad law with unjust courts and the outcome has been predictably disastrous.”
In an age where vast information is readily available, we must realize that at the end of the day, the job of the news and media are not to simply tell facts but to also portray the thoughts and opinions held by the masses, no matter if it supports government actions or not. It is this diffusion of opinion that allows for dialogue between and individuals, and it is through this communication and iterative process that nations improve for all citizens. A crackdown on what is said or seen on the Internet is an inherent violation of the freedom of the press, which is the bedrock of modern democracy. Even today, in the Western world, we see the emergence of this rhetoric by government officials that label the journalists as the “Real Enemy of the People,” ideals that are similar to the likes of both Hitler and Stalin. As hard as it is to be told that we are wrong or that someone disagrees with our opinions, we must remember that nations are built on dissent. Without that, the only question that remains is: who are we, and who do we want to be?
According to Al Jazeera, last month, a separate bill was passed that allowed Egypt’s Supreme Council of Regulation to monitor people on social media with more than 5,000 followers. However, this bill has yet to be ratified. President Sisi took to power in 2013, following a coup of the Muslim Brotherhood regime. According to The Atlantic, since then, the number of activists, protesters, and presidential opponents in jail have spiked. This has caused Reporters Without Borders to rank Egypt at 161 of 180 countries in terms of the amount of freedom given to the press. According to The Daily Telegraph, since the last year, Egypt has already taken the initiative of blocking websites, specifically Al Jazeera, a popular supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood. To this day, with street protests banned, use of the web is one of the remaining mediums for citizens in Egypt to express their free speech.
Similar to what has been observed in the Arab Spring, an oppressed people can only bear so much before they must uprise against the very individuals who have shackled them. It is not a question of whether or not life will improve for these people but when. So long as the international community supports universal free speech to support, empower, and utilize the web to inform, the information will find its way to the people who need it one way or another.
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