CAIRO — The Egyptian government has blocked access to a total of 21 news and information websites since last Wednesday, including the original publisher of this article, Cairo-based Mada Masr. A security source cited by MENA, the country's official state news agency, said that the blocked websites were disseminating "content that supports terrorism and extremism and deliberately spreads lies."

These events are part of a longer and wider history of the state's attempt to control the Internet, a principal concern since the January 2011 revolution and one that has become apparent following the recent campaign of arrests made recently in connection with the administration of Facebook pages. The government is also currently preparing legislation to combat cyber crime.

Among the first wave of 17 websites that were blocked last Wednesday are two Egyptian outlets, Masr Al-Arabiya and the online edition of the weekly publication Al-Mesryoon. The list also includes some Qatari or Qatar-funded news outlets that support or are managed by the Muslim Brotherhood, principal among them Al Jazeera and Huffington Post Arabic, in addition to the official website for Palestinian political movement Hamas.

The Business News for Press, Publishing and Distribution Company, which owns both El-Borsa and DNE, issued a statement on Sunday that called the government shutdown 'unjustified and with neither a notification nor explanation.'

On Saturday and Sunday, the state extended the ban to financial newspapers Daily News Egypt (DNE) and El-Borsa. The list of blocked websites was also extended to secure internet browser Tor on Saturday. Business daily El-Borsa was printed and distributed on Sunday as usual. The English-language DNE website changed its domain in an attempt to bypass the blockage, but its new domain was subsequently blocked.

The Business News for Press, Publishing and Distribution Company, which owns both El-Borsa and DNE, issued a statement on Sunday that called the government shutdown "unjustified and with neither a notification nor explanation." The statement affirmed that the two newspapers "do not have any political or partisan or religious affiliations, nor do any of its employees, and have never been at any point a voice for any particular group, with the exception of the liberal editorial policy."

Head of the Journalists Syndicate Abdel Mohsen Salama told media outlets that he is preparing a memorandum to the higher council for media about the blockage of four Egyptian websites, two of which, Al-Mesryoon and El-Borsa issue print papers, and Mada Masr and Masr al-Arabiya.

The Egyptian government has not claimed responsibility for restricting access to the browser Tor, although it comes at the same time as the blocking of the news sites.

Tor allows users to improve security and privacy online and has been used to counter web blockages in other countries. The browser's website shows an increase in downloads from 1,300 to more than 2,000 in the four days following the blockages.

After the Turkish government blocked access to social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter in November of last year, the number of Tor users increased from 18,000 to 25,000 in one day.

Mada Masr has received several reports of interrupted access to the website through the same service providers at different times from different geographical locations within Egypt. This indicates that the blockage is decentralized through service providers rather than a centralized operation by the state. These providers include Orange, Vodafone and TE Data.


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