Censorship in Arab world. Long Strides Waiting Citizen to Face Governments

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Skyline International- Stockholm

With the technological development in cyberspace, governments in the world are increasingly trying to control what their citizens receive through filtering websites and published material by purchasing developed technological programs which work on controlling what citizens can read.

In a report published by Skyline International, it is obvious that China, India, Iran and the Arab countries are of the highest numbers of internet censorship.

Arab Countries, especially Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, can be classified as among the highest categories of Internet Censorship.   

Arab Countries: Ongoing Censorship

Both countries have resorted to control the Internet through computerized  technological systems, which are developed programs filtering websites.

The software was developed by a California-based company specializing in Internet security products before being purchased from the famous McAfee antivirus company.

There are other countries that make less restrictions on the Internet, such as Libya, Sudan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and Mauretania.

Arab countries invoke internet censorship of the Islamic religion, and what is forbidden is subject to the dominant culture. However, this is wrong. In many cases, anti-Arab regimes news websites are banned, as is currently the case in the Gulf states, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt and Sudan.

For example, the Palestinian Authority bans more the 40 websites without relying on any law and without a court or governmental decision. And it is unknown exactly who has issued these decisions which are disseminated  to companies supplying the Internet in the Palestinian territories.

The majority of Arab countries lack legal legislation which can regulate control over the Internet, and the ban can be imposed depending on security or political decisions according the government and ruling authorities views without any legal grounds. In many cases, legal grounds of printed books and newspapers are used in the internet censorship which were enacted decades before the advent of the Internet. This creates a case that it is difficult to deal with, as these laws are used to organize newspapers and printed publications, not cyberspace.   

Some Arab countries enact laws to control cyberspace, such as Iraq, Palestine, and Egypt, but these laws greatly violate the freedom of opinion and expression and make the law a voluntary tool of the ruling authorities, containing loose terms that can be explained as anti-state or regime ones or disseminate false news, while the basic goal is to control everything that is published online within the state.

Internet filtering models:

Arab countries use a model of censorship against their citizens through filtering Internet websites programs, which can control what they receive, the most important programs are:

Netsweeper: it is a program to filter websites and used by a number of Arab countries such as, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Yemen and Bahrain. NetSuper is based in Canada, the UK, the Netherlands, India and the UAE and serves governments around the world in the areas of cyber-attacks and attacks protection.

Smartfilter: it is also a program for filtering websites and used to prevent specific computers from access certain websites. This program is installed on the public network, not individually or on a private device.  It enables public and private corporates to use it in their workplace. It is used by a number of countries, such as Oman, Tunis and Saudi Arabia.

Challenging Censorship:

The importance of freedom of expression on the Internet, especially on social media, is to record violations against human rights and to urge governments and countries to stop them.

These violations are recorded in a number of Arab countries in  popular revolutions such as Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Tunisia and Sudan, and have had a major impact in bring the voice of the oppressed into the world.

They can also be possible evidence of crimes against humanity by regimes and governments.

Raising awareness in the Arab world on the importance of social media is vital to promote human rights and overcome controlling ways that governments are trying to impose on the various Arab people, by stopping the services of some websites on the Internet, or blocking others or restricting access to them.  

Social media has become the ideal way and the other story competing the governmental story, where it presents the other opinion to the public through the various platforms. This  creates a state of pressure towards these governments around the world which have realized this and are trying with every effort to control all means and arrest opponents posting any other stories except what the regimes want.

Violations Documentation:

The so-called citizen journalism today is the most reliable means of controlling the Internet in the most powerful countries, through Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. These articles, whether text, images, or videos, may constitute potential evidence of major violations against human rights, whether in civil conflicts as what took place in Syria, or popular demonstrations, as happened in Egypt and now in Sudan, or human rights violations, as what is happening in Saudi Arabia or the UAE.

All of these evidences which can be collected from various websites and internet platforms may one day allow to prosecute countries in courts due to using crimes against humanity. Therefore, these countries are competing to control these websites as much as possible through spying networks mobile phones or malicious applications published by governments through links received from governmental ministries in officially which make a large number of citizens fully under the watchful eyes of authorities without any privacy.  

Therefore, the Arab Activists face a number of major challenges, the most important of  which is protecting their personal data and identities on various social media platforms. This requires social media to not provide governments with the details of their citizens’ data and to contact its subscribers if they face any danger or hacking as what happened with Facebook the last year of 2018.

Among challenges that is difficult to overcome is the access to international media, especially through fully governmental- controlled mobile communications networks. Another challenge is finding  new ways to measure the validity of content posted on social media by building a network of relationships among activists, searching for sources of information and comparing them with the what is mentioned before. Adding to these, using some important programs, such as making sure the images or their date of publication are not fake.

Using the internet by anti-government activists in the Arab world is dangerous Therefore, all necessary precautions should be used to evade government censorship, continually remove visit  records on the Internet and to not keep social media accounts registered and stored or in any way.

The technological development imposes on Arab Activists to follow the development and types of censorship around the world and how to overcome them through more searching on the internet  and continuously seeking to keep up with the technological developments.

The Arab world has long ways to reach a place that lacks government censorship  and has a full freedom of opinion without any harassments or obstacles. In order to achieve this, the value of expression, freedom, justice should be enhanced through creating continues  pressure on various governments to allow citizens enjoying freedom of expression and removing all imposed restrictions and obstacles, technically and practically, by releasing detainees on the basis of their political or human rights views.

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