Widening Clampdown On Internet News In Egypt

The Ministry of Communication and Information Technology in Cairo in 2009.
The Ministry of Communication and Information Technology in Cairo in 2009.

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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"The Truest Hypocrisy" - The Russia-NATO Clash Seen From Moscow

Russia has decided to cut off relations with the Western military alliance. But Moscow says it was NATO who really wanted the break based on its own internal rationale.

NATO chief Stoltenberg and Russian Foregin Minister Lavrov

Russian Foreign Ministry/TASS via ZUMA
Pavel Tarasenko and Sergei Strokan

MOSCOW — The Russian Foreign Ministry's announcement that the country's permanent representation to NATO would be shut down for an indefinite period is a major development. But from Moscow's viewpoint, there was little alternative.

These measures were taken in response to the decision of NATO on Oct. 6 to cut the number of personnel allowed in the Russian mission to the Western alliance by half. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the removal of accreditations was from eight employees of the Russian mission to NATO who were identified as undeclared employees of Russian intelligence." We have seen an increase in Russian malicious activity for some time now," Stoltenberg said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry called NATO's expulsion of Russian personnel a "ridiculous stunt," and Stoltenberg's words "the truest hypocrisy."

In announcing the complete shutdown in diplomacy between Moscow and NATO, the Russian Foreign Ministry added: "The 'Russian threat' is being hyped in strengthen the alliance's internal unity and create the appearance of its 'relevance' in modern geopolitical conditions."

The number of Russian diplomatic missions in Brussels has been reduced twice unilaterally by NATO in 2015 and 2018 - after the alliance's decision of April 1, 2014 to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between Russia and NATO in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea. Diplomats' access to the alliance headquarters and communications with its international secretariat was restricted, military contacts have frozen.

Yet the new closure of all diplomatic contacts is a perilous new low. Kommersant sources said that the changes will affect the military liaison mission of the North Atlantic alliance in Moscow, aimed at promoting the expansion of the dialogue between Russia and NATO. However, in recent years there has been no de facto cooperation. And now, as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has announced, the activities of the military liaison mission will be suspended. The accreditation of its personnel will be canceled on November 1.

NATO told RIA Novosti news service on Monday that it regretted Moscow's move. Meanwhile, among Western countries, Germany was the first to respond. "It would complicate the already difficult situation in which we are now and prolong the "ice age," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.

"Lavrov said on Monday, commenting on the present and future of relations between Moscow and the North Atlantic Alliance, "If this is the case, then we see no great need to continue pretending that any changes will be possible in the foreseeable future because NATO has already announced that such changes are impossible.

The suspension of activities of the Russian Permanent Mission to NATO, as well as the military liaison and information mission in Russia, means that Moscow and Brussels have decided to "draw a final line under the partnership relations of previous decades," explained Andrei Kortunov, director-general of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, "These relations began to form in the 1990s, opening channels for cooperation between the sides … but they have continued to steadily deteriorate over recent years."

Kortunov believes the current rupture was promoted by Brussels. "A new strategy for NATO is being prepared, which will be adopted at the next summit of the alliance, and the previous partnership with Russia does not fit into its concept anymore."

The existence and expansion of NATO after the end of the Cold War was the main reason for the destruction of the whole complex of relations between Russia and the West. Today, Russia is paying particular attention to marking red lines related to the further steps of Ukraine's integration into NATO. Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov previously stated this, warning that in response to the alliance's activity in the Ukrainian direction, Moscow would take "active steps" to ensure its security.

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