CAIRO: Egypt is among 12 countries which systematically repress internet users, says rights groups Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
“The vitality of the Egyptian blogosphere on the international scene is far from being an advantage for the bloggers involved, who are the most hounded in the world, RSF says in its report “Internet Enemies which, in addition to Egypt, describes restrictions placed on internet users in Saudi Arabia, Burma, China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.
Roughly 10 million of Egypt s population of over 75 million are internet users. “Despite the government s efforts to make computers more affordable, the internet penetration rate remains low at 12.9 percent, the report says, while nonetheless pointing out that there were twice as many ADSL users in 2008 as there were in 2007.
A 2008 report by the governmental Information and Decision Support Center estimated that Egyptian blogs form 30.7 percent of the world s total 450,000 Arabic-language blogs.
RSF points to the vital role played by blogs and social networking sites in information-sharing and activism: “More than a space for expression, the Web has become a space for action, particularly through social networks.
The report points to the Facebook group which in 2008 called for a general strike on April 6 which “contributed to a general strike and one of the largest expressions of unrest in several years .
Internet users are pitted against slowly encroaching repression of internet freedom, the report says.
“Officials monitor information exchanged online and cybercafés have to obtain a license from the telecommunications ministry under threat of closure, the report reads.
“Some cybercafés owners have said that they had been ordered to note and file all their customers identity card numbers, reads the report. “The authorities have since last summer applied regulations to the WiFi network, which is having direct impact on freedom of expression.
“To connect to the wireless network, a customer has to provide a mobile phone number and some personal data such as identity card number, address and so on, which gives rise to concerns about freedom of speech.
The report makes reference to what it terms as “cyber-dissidents Diaa Eddin Gad and Karim Amer, who are currently behind bars.
Gad and Amer were amongst six bloggers mentioned last week in a letter sent by the New-York based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) to Egyptian president Hosny Mubarak calling on him to halt the “campaign against bloggers.
CPJ describes this campaign as “only one element of an overall decline in press freedom in Egypt in recent years .
“Egypt s security services and judiciary . pursue independent journalists and bloggers through legal and extralegal harassment. . Bloggers, who lack the relative institutional protections provided to some – though not all – journalists who work in traditional print and broadcast media, have been targeted with particular ruthlessness.