CAIRO: The internet is a “snowball of democracy in the Arab world and cannot be stopped by governments, the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) said in a report issued during this week.
“Blogging – and in general anything published on the internet – is beyond the control of Arab governments which attempts to repress traditional forms of publishing. Shahinaz Abdel Salam, one of the report’s authors, said during a press conference at the Journalists’ Syndicate held to launch the report on Wednesday.
The report, “One Social Network with a Rebellious Message, surveys the restrictions placed on Internet use in 20 Arab countries, in addition to containing a section on the way that activists use platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, blogs and Youtube.
The report estimates that there are some 58 million internet users in the Arab world, of which 15 million are in Egypt, the country with the largest number of internet users in the region.
It is also the country with the largest number of blogs, followed by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Morocco.
While Egyptians blog to “break the political constraints through their blogs, blogging is personal rather than political in Saudi Arabia. In Kuwait, the majority of blogs are in English.
Bloggers throughout the Arab region have been instrumental in bringing previously ignored issues to the mainstream media, the report says, citing videos posted online which exposed crimes of sexual harassment and torture in Egypt.
“Dozens, if not hundreds, of bloggers have been arrested and detained under emergency laws in the Arab region and Egypt is the country which most represses internet users in the Arab world, the report says.
ANHRI says that while Egypt stopped blocking websites five years ago, it represses bloggers and internet users in other ways.
“Internet activists in Egypt are not excluded from the systematic and wide ranging torture of security bodies. Dozens of bloggers and activists of the April 6 movement suffered torture and ill-treatment as a result of their intense work to expose corruption and repression, the report says.
The report does not list the names of all of the bloggers and activists it says have been detained because of their net activism, but mentions April 6 Movement member Ahmed Maher, blogger Mohamed Adel and Kareem Beheiry, a former employee of the Ghazl El-Mahalla spinning factory and blogger, who was amongst workers from the factory detained following protests in Mahalla on April 6, 2008.
The report does not, however, mention the fact that it is not always clear whether the detention of Egyptian activists who also use the internet for political purposes is linked to their online activity, or whether they are arrested for other forms of activism.
ANHRI says that Saudi Arabia and Tunisia are the countries which monitor the internet the most, while Lebanon and Algeria “deal best with internet regulation.
Tunisia – the first country in the Arab region to introduce the Internet – systematically represses Internet users as part of the ruling party’s “push towards more political prohibition and isolation.
The report says that blocking and hacking of opposition websites are a “systematic policy in the country and that at least 16 such incidents happened in 2008 and 2009. Almost all users whose websites were hacked accused the Tunisian government of responsibility, the report says.
In addition, “the government used Facebook to defame and ridicule opponents by faking accounts in their names.
In Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, users who flout laws governing internet use face prison sentences of up to five years.
Lebanon is “the only Arab country that clearly declares which fields will be subject to censorship on the internet. These are ‘promoting for Israel and slandering religion’ , ANHRI says.