The list of blocked websites in Egypt keeps growing, as the government widens what some say is an unprecedented crackdown on both local and international digital outlets. So far, 114 websites have been blocked in the north African nation since May 24, according to the latest figures from the non-governmental organization Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression.
A majority of these are news websites, but also included are platforms that can be used to access blocked sites or that allow for anonymous browsing and communication.
The affected websites include sites like Mada Masr, the financial newspaper Al Borsa, and Huffington Post Arabic. Twelve websites linked to Al Jazeera were also been blocked. Medium, the online publishing platform, was also banned. The outage also affected Tor, the free software that provides users with online anonymity, and Tor bridges, which helps users circumvent the blocking of Tor itself. The website of the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI), an international network that monitors internship censorship and surveillance, was also blocked.
The growing censorship comes as the government says it’s cracking down on websites that are “publishing false information” and “supporting terrorism.” (Link in Arabic) Egypt is currently in the midst of a three-month state emergency, following twin attacks on churches that killed almost 50 people in April.
The country is also part of a Saudi-led coalition that has put a blockade on Qatar, demanding, among other things, the closure of the Doha-based Al Jazeera media network which it considers to a be a propaganda tool for Islamists. The government of president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is also embroiled in a maritime demarcation agreement over its decision to vote on the transfer of two islands in the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia—a move that has angered many Egyptians.
However, journalists and activists say the campaign is suppressing free expression and voices critical of the government. Some are accusing the regime of failing to disclose any judicial or administrative decision to block the sites—or whether emergency law provisions were applied.
“Even in the darkest days of the repressive Mubarak era, the authorities didn’t cut off access to all independent news sites,” Najia Bounaim, Amnesty International’s north Africa campaigns director, said.
In a June 19 report, OONI stated that deep packet inspection technology was being used to monitor and block these websites. Mada Masr, one of the blocked sites, also reported that the decision to block the sites was carried through a “centralized decision” by the government rather than by the country’s telecoms or internet service providers.
Since going offline, sites like Mada have been publishing articles on Facebook. Lina Attallah, the editor of the site, said the strategy of blocking the sites works to the government’s advantage for now. “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,” Attallah told Reuters.