of speech in Egypt
Information is a valued commodity in the Middle East.
Communication resources have traditionally
been a monopoly of the state, be it print,
telephone, radio or television. National security concerns
guide the continued policies. Grey E. Burkhart, executive
vice-president in United Press International, noted that
security concerns in these countries extend beyond the
traditional definition of military threats from foreign
countries. In effect they include anything that is a threat
to the ruling institutions and their interests,
such as their claims to the right to rule (e.g., as defenders
of Islam and Arab cultural values) and their financial
interests. Others include fears that international networks
will be used by terrorists, the potential vulnerability
of businesses becoming dependent upon information accessible
via the Internet and the security of business communications,
the spreading of propaganda (false or otherwise) by political
opposition groups in exile, and foreign information warfare
and intelligence operations."
concerns have developed since the first printing presses
arrived with the French expedition in 1798. Napoleon's
newspapers, Courier de L'Egypte and La Decade Egyptienne,
were in French, and it was not until Mohammed
Ali established Al Wakae al Masreya and Jurnal
al-Khadyu in 1827-8 that the region saw its first newspapers
in the Arabic language. Mohammed Ali monitored the publications
close, suggested articles and oversaw content before printing.
Journalists were punished with flogging
300 times if they committed anything against his will.
Ali's successor, Said Pasha, further limited press freedom,
introducing a journalism office for prior restraint and
making it illegal per se to criticise the government.
Egyptian printing thus started in a restricted atmosphere.
The fight against the British occupation in the 1880's
unified Egypt under a common banner. Like in many other
countries under imperialist rule, the nationalist media
in Egypt played an important part in the independence
movement. When Egypt was granted semi-independence in
1919, political parties emerged, as did party presses.
By the end of King Farouk's rule
in 1952, Egypt had 32 daily newspapers.
the Free Officers took power the same year, Egypt's new
president Gamal Abdel Nasser pioneered
the propaganda potential of the radio. With it, Nasser
overcame illiteracy and distance. Radio - and frequency
space - soon became the monopoly of the state. For a brief
period of time, the privately held media were trusted
to support Nasser without censorship, but this failed
miserably. The experiment was closed down one month after
it was initialised in 1954. Six years later the press,
too, was nationalised, and the remaining autonomy of the
press disappeared under the slogan "social justice
most devastating loss of Nasser - and his media - followed
the conquest by Israel in the war of 1967. Print journalism
and books were typing Nasser's poetry uncontested, but
the radio had many voices. Watching
Israeli air planes over Cairo while hearing about the
victorious Egyptian army on the radio established the
deliberate lies of the government.
has to be heard, to be believed", wrote
C. Issawy about the Voice of the Arabs, "for
sheer venom, vulgarity, and indifference to truth it has
few equals in the world."
soon learned to tune into foreign news broadcasts such
as British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and
the Voice of America (VOA) , establishing a trust
to foreign media that was revisited for television during
the Gulf War in 1991. Though Nasser offered to step down
following the massive defeat, the Egyptian people took
to the streets and demanded he continue as president.
Yet the 1967 war marked the beginning of the end of Pan
Arab socialism, only to disappear fully with the appointment
of Sadat as President of the Republic in 1971.
Sadat promised to follow Nasser's path with the
Corrective Revolution , but in effect started right away
to reverse his predecessor's policies. 10 000 Russian
technicians were asked to leave the following year, concluding
the friendship with the Soviet Union. Soon after, he announced
the "open door" policy, which was to guide the
direction of Egypt to this day. Censorship was lifted
on domestic publications in Egypt in 1974. The constitution
states that "freedom of the press is guaranteed
[…] within the limits of the law."
emergency law, however, which by some estimates
has been in force since 1910 overrules "clauses contradictory
to [the emergency law]." It is therefore misleading
to view the lifting of censorship as anything but an empty
gesture, as the emergency law opens for censorship, prior
restraint and closing of publishing houses. Foreign publications,
however, flourished in Egypt for the first time in thirty
years, reflecting Egypt's warming relations with the west.
opposition parties were created by the President in 1977;
the Right, the Centre and the Left . A governmental committee
was set up to review new applications for political parties,
as every party was required to have a unique platform.
To this day the political parties committee has only approved
one single application, to a party for "nuclear armament."
The remaining 11 political parties created since the 1977
have all been legalised after the courts have overturned
the committee's decision.
political parties are given a printing licence for a party
organ. The paper must present the official party
line. The government retains the sole right of publishing
in the country, giving the authorities the advantage of
knowing beforehand of opposition activities and the opportunity
to stall printing. William A. Rugh wrote in The Arab Press
that Sadat's creation of a higher press council and the
establishment of party newspapers represented "changes
in form, but not in basic substance." According to
Ochs, 1986, the opposition newspapers were "yanked
in and out of business like yo-yos."
Sadat's visit to Israel the same year, Egypt was politically
isolated in the Arab world. Pan Arab relations did not
warm by Egypt's signing of the Camp David accords either,
and a boycott of Egyptian media products was launched
following the Arab League meeting in Baghdad in 1979.
The great number of Egyptian production companies and
professionals operating abroad blurred the borders as
to what content was actually made in Egypt. This fitted
well with regional programming purchasers, who had grown
semi-dependent upon programming from Egypt. The boycott
was consequently an ineffective affair, rendering "no
evidence" that Egyptian program sales to region decreased
as a result of the boycott.
1980 Sadat introduced what the Encyclopaedia of Censorship
described as "the main vehicle of control" ;
the Law of shame. The law, which has
been renewed by current President Mubarak, stipulates
that it is the duty of each citizen to uphold the basic
social values. Failure to do so represents shameful conduct.
It maintains further that it is illegal to deny the "truth
of Sunni Muslim teachings", that it is prohibited
to "attack the state", to "corrupt youth",
to publish or broadcast "scurrilous material that
might offend the state", forming any "unauthorised
organisation", to publish or broadcast information
abroad, that "might undermine the state's political
or economic system". The Encyclopaedia of Censorship
was written before the new press law of 1996,
which may rival the law of shame as the main vehicle of
control. For comparison, see the Appendix for the Egyptian
Radio and Television Union's code of ethics.Though Sadat
liberalised the press, allowing non-governmental entities
to publish, the total number of publications licensed
to operate in Egypt was only 77. Since the 1980s more
than 300 publications have been licensed.
assassination of Sadat in 1981 paved the way for Hosni
Mubarak's intensive regional diplomacy, resulting in a
return of the Arab League headquarters to Cairo and re-admittance
to the Arab League itself in 1988. Mubarak renewed the
emergency law following the assassination of President
Anwar Sadat in 1981. It is the president's exclusive right
to announce and terminate the state of emergency, and
Mubarak has exercised this right consecutively throughout
his term. The emergency law was renewed again on March
26, this year. The emergency law functions as a security
option for the government, which can be invoked at will.
is not always necessary, as the Egyptian Organisation
for Human Rights (EOHR) noted in 1990: "[The government
has] invented a series of means and procedures that turn
… press censorship [into] a stable and deep rooted
fact that makes the continues recourse to a press censor
or to emergency law unnecessary." In addition to
the press law of 1996, such laws include the Egyptian
penal code. Under the chapter "Crimes of
the Press" it is stipulated that it is illegal
to "insult the President", the president of
a "foreign country", "government officials",
"the armed forces" or the parliament."
Mubarak is internationally held in high regard for his
economic reform programmes , but his human rights and
freedom of speech record is less renowned. He has generally
followed the path of his predecessors, introducing extra
legislation where needed. Special press protection for
public officials, harsh libel laws, licensing and restricting
the funding of newspapers and NGOs are all examples of
Mubarak's dedication to freedom of speech.
broadcasting is a government monopoly, which, with the
onset of satellite, makes less and less sense. Current
chairman of the Egypt's Radio and Television Union (ERTU),
Abdel Rahman Hafez, related to the TBS journal a concern
for bandwidth and the expenses of investors, when he explained
why the government did not allow terrestrial broadcasting.
"It is undesirable from a technical standpoint for
ERTU to add any channels on the terrestrial systems because
of interference of signals […] It's also incredibly
expensive to add a new terrestrial network. Anybody who
wants to invest in terrestrial would have to invest at
least LE500 million, and would not generate any profits."
technology has elsewhere compressed analogue systems,
increasing capacity by a factor of eight. Bandwidth should
not be a problem. The major attraction for investors in
terrestrial TV, is an advertising audience of perhaps
40-50 million people. Satellite reaches only a few; there
are at best 1 million antennas in Egypt. Showtime
operates with a break-even number of 200 000 subscribers
for the whole Middle East. They have now about
150 000. If terrestrial television channels have a 50
percent viewer-ship during prime time, the potential increase
in audience is 150-fold. In terms of advertising revenue,
the potential might even offset the subscription fee,
and still be profitable.
Sawiris, Chairman and C.E.O. of Orascom Telecommunications,
a contender for terrestrial broadcasting in Egypt, said
to Al-Ahram Weekly that he thought the reasons for the
continued government monopoly of terrestrial television
was "Economical, and not political" He further
added that, "The government says: I'm going to allow
you to have a satellite channel. [But] I don't need the
approval of the government to do that. I can do that anywhere
in the world. The [question] is, why does the government
keep the monopoly of terrestrial broadcasting to itself?
[…] They keep the terrestrial channels because these
are very cheap, and they tell you go and invest in satellite.
I can do that anywhere."
The Egyptian government's attitude to the media is today
very much what it has always been. Printed media is controlled
through licensing, funding or subsidies and possible libel
in retrospect, while terrestrial television still is firmly
in the hands of the government. Broadcasting to the region
via satellite is expensive, and the audience is limited.
is important to note here, that for the average Egyptian,
with an annual income of 1,180 US dollars or less - human
rights and free speech is a secondary issue to managing
from one month to the next.
communication in Egypt
Transnational broadcasting in Egypt started after the
revolution in 1952. President Gamal Abdel Nasser was quick
to realise the potential of radio, and invested heavily
in broadcasting equipment. The long range of radio enabled
the voice of Cairo to be received throughout the Middle
East, and beyond. Free radio sets enabled both Yemenites
and Egyptians to tune into the gospel of Pan Arabism and
later the non-aligned movement. The rest of the world
could also tune in, often in their native language.
broadcasts were of high technical and programming quality,
a property that was enhanced by the ability of the journalists
in Cairo to compare with other radio stations available
on short wave. Terrestrial television, with a
range of about 50 kilometres, did not have this property.
Television became the natural step for the government
to promote next. Though not the first country in the Arab
world to start a television service (Iraq was), Egypt
was an early contender when it launched its multi-channel
service in 1961.
coverage was facilitated by the fact that most of Egypt's
population is concentrated along the Nile basin. The government
could "get away" with building re-transmitters
in a straight line across the country, rather than making
a much more expensive national grid. The only disadvantage
was that the few people living outside the Nile basin,
did not get television until 20 or 30 years later.
new multi-channel television service utilised the country's
rich motion picture library to fill the broadcasting hours,
making the country less dependent on foreign programming
than other Arab countries. In time Egypt began to export
television series to the rest of the region, though this
trade did not "take off" until Sadat's open
door began to take effect in the mid 1970's. The 1973
war with Israel changed Egypt's media policy dramatically.
While the international press corps was operating under
strict regulations, their reports did have more credibility
than the domestic news services. Having international
media present to report on the Egyptian advances "proved"
beyond doubt what was indeed happening - at least for
the first two weeks.
it is disputed who subsequently won the war, it can certainly
be argued that Egypt won the media war.
The lesson taught Sadat in particular to open up the Egyptian
media. However transparent it became, however, it was
- and still is - restricted by the emergency law imposed
by Nasser and renewed by Sadat and in turn Mubarak.
was officially lifted from the constitution the following
year. Plans materialised for a permanent satellite
ground station. A number of independent production companies
were established. Egypt started producing television series
explicitly for the regional market. The programming,
while regionally superior, was still significantly lacking
in any international sense.
is attributed to the short range of television signals,
which disabled Egyptian journalists from comparing programming
with the international scene. Egyptian television
was therefore inferior to the Egyptian Radio, which had
the ability to compare to the rest of the world. In
addition, high taxes and strains on creativity led a great
number of production personnel to move abroad. Douglas
Boyd cites an editorial in the Egyptian Gazette from 1977
when he attempts to describe the service:
Egyptians are nowhere to be seen. The vast majority have
fled to other Arab states where the pay is good and where
their talents are appreciated and put to good use. No
one should be surprised if films made in the Gulf by Egyptians
are sold to Egyptian TV and this will be the rule rather
than the exception if TV continues to be run like an agricultural
co-op." The results of this mass emigration of talent
had dire consequences, according to the same editorial:
production of television programmes] seems to be written
by the mentally retarded, for the mentally retarded, and
in order to promote mental retardation growth rates in
spite of this brute description, the average Egyptian
seems to have enjoyed the service. Maybe because there
was no alternative. Besides, television sets was by themselves
a status symbol (much like a satellite dish is now). Coffeehouses
were reported to get television sets in order to attract
customers, so the programming must have aroused some interest.
was not until the beginning of the 1990s that satellite
started arousing an interest in the Middle East. There
were until then "very few" of dishes in Cairo,
and a "near absence" in the region. Cable News
Egypt had just received permission to retransmit CNN over
antennae (UHF) in Egypt, and offered free access during
the Gulf War as a promotional effort. Unfortunately, as
co-founder Abdullah Schleifer observed to Judy Mishinski
in 1990, "Once the Gulf crisis has been resolved,
how many Egyptians will be interested in what's happening
on an ordinary day in China or Ecuador? Not too many."
addition to the lack of interest in a package consisting
of only one channel, there was a growing awareness of
the services offered by satellites. By satellite, CNN
was offered for free, plus an almost unlimited number
of other channels. Satellite dishes were eventually legalised
by the government, making satellite reception the major
(but expensive) alternative to Egyptian state broadcasting.
CNE and the unprecedented live coverage of the Gulf War
paved the way for a smooth transition to satellite TV
technology in Egypt. Saudi Arabia and Syria, by far more
restrictive countries than Egypt, both banned satellite
dishes, only to find that the equipment was illegally
imported with relative ease and hidden with same similar
that satellite television often provided the only "second
opinion" to the governmental truth, it was an unstoppable
development. Hussein Amin and Leo A. Gher estimates that
there are 800 000 Direct To Home (DTH) satellite dishes
in Egypt today. Over 30 satellite networks have
developed in the Arab world over the past ten years.
television in the Arab world has become bolder as a result
of the competition from satellite broadcasting. The
Cairo Times, for instance, described in its May 17th issue
how government television dealt with a riot at the Al-Azhar
University; "State television included footage of
the riots in its 8 May evening broadcast. Until recently,
such events were normally excised from the news - but
widely available via satellite or radio. Lately, however,
the government is trying to pre-empt the international
networks, allowing them the first chance to spin"
new environment has also made Arab journalists working
for satellite stations more confident. Criticism, or implications
thereof, is now being uttered, something that was unheard
of before satellite television. Moataz Demerdash, anchor
and producer for MBC, commented under a Columbia University
gathering for Middle Eastern journalists that: "Ten
years ago no one in this room would have had the opportunity
to question an Arab leader about his performance in office
on live television".
equipment is still expensive, however, and while the cost
has decreased as
a result of technology improvements and domestic production,
the overall outlay puts satellite dishes far from the
rooftops of ordinary Egyptians. Satellite programming
is available on video, and extensive piracy has helped
spread access to the programs
In order to understand the developments of the Internet
in the Middle East, it is important to understand why
the region has been so sceptical to it. The
net developed for fifty years outside the region, and
then pounded the existing communication systems in the
beginning of the 1990s.
may have sounded like science fiction when Vanevar Bush
published an article in Atlantic Monthly about the first
origins of the World Wide Web in 1945. He described a
photo-electrical-mechanical device called a Memex, for
memory extension, which could make and follow links between
documents on microfiche. Yet, perhaps as a result of Bush'
position as director of the Office of Scientific Research
and Development, it took little more than ten years before
the United States government actively started promoting
such a network.
first research began when the United States formed the
Advanced Research Projects Agency, ARPA, in 1957. The
Soviet Union had just launched Sputnik, the world's first
satellite, and the United States wanted to speed up its
technological innovation. In 1961, the first visions of
present-day internet surfaced, with the publication of
Information Flow in Large Communication Nets, by MIT's
Leonard Kleinrock . Development for packet-switched networks
continued throughout the 1960s. The world's first
email program was emerged in 1971, following
up the next year with the introduction of the @ sign.
and England became the two first countries
to have an international connection to the renamed ARPANET
in 1973. Domain Name Servers were introduced in 1984,
enabling text-based internet addresses rather than numbers.
The Internet was in 1990 mainly an
academic and military adventure, with a simple line mode
interface and few applications. It is doubtful
if the internet would have become a mass phenomenon in
this state.Two events this year dramatically changed this
first was the lifting of the commercial restrictions on
the internet by the United States' National Science Foundation.
The second was perhaps even more significant. Tim
Berners-Lee was developing a system for sharing
information across the wide range of different computer
systems for his employer at CERN, a European high-energy
physics research institution. He created a simple protocol
that could display graphics and text - HTTP
- regardless of operating system. The World Wide Web browser
accompanying the code was later renamed Nexus, as to avoid
confusion with the growing WWW network.
entrance of commercial capital and the improved graphical
interface boosted the Internet to an unprecedented level,
a growth that has continued to this day.
Internet in the Arab World
The Internet began as an American research project,
that later included Europe. By the time the World Wide
Web arrived in 1991, most developed countries were ready
to adapt the new technologies.
countries, on the other hand, were still on the sideline.
They had not participated in the research, they were afraid
of the implications of the new technologies, the technological
infrastructure was insufficient and, of course, nobody
knew the impact. Whereas events in the developed
nations were driven without much governmental involvement,
civic society in the third world did not have this power.
It was therefore easy for the government to initially
ban the internet, as no one knew what he or she was missing.
internet is switched through relatively
small telephone networks and come out differently for
different communication situations. It is user
based, enabling each users' individual preferences,
giving instant access to areas of interest, be it academic,
professional, political or leisure.
Broadcasting is a corporate service, transmitting
one to many. The internet may therefore
become a more significant means of communication than
Most of the Arab nations have for
national security reasons adapted a rather cautious approach
to the internet. Three years after the introduction
of the World Wide Web, there still were no internet service
providers (ISPs) in the Arab world. Public access internet
in the region started in 1995, with the entry of Bahrain,
Kuwait and Iran. Iran was the first country to become
a member of an international computer network, BITNET
in 1992. Other countries, like Libya,
Syria and Saudi Arabia banned the internet all together,
but found that eager surfers connected to ISPs in neighbouring
countries instead . Today only Iraq, with its demobilised
communication systems and grave internal difficulties,
remain outside the information superhighway.
Arab countries have followed a model of governmental gateways
to the World Wide Web, enabling a national proxy filter
of unwanted political, religious and obscene material.
exact forms of control vary from country to country, usually
deriving from military, religious authority, hereditary
monarchies, or other oligarchic sources. More so than
in many parts of the world, government control of telecommunications
continues via monopolistic providers.
survey done by the Arab PC magazine "Internet Arab
World" indicates that the number of users in the
Arab world is close to two million, divided on 545 000
internet account holders. .The IAW research unit surveyed
more than 1000 internet users in its follow-up to a similar
survey last year. It was found that the majority of the
users (72 percent) used the internet from home. This is
contrary to developed nations, where the office tends
to be the main internet gate.
2 percent used internet cafes as their primary web access.
English was the secondary language for 88 percent, corresponding
to the finding that 73 percent of the users have higher
education; a bachelor's degree or more. 96 percent were
male, an abnormally high figure. Arab users
are slightly younger (30 years) than the world average
(33 years).Thursday, followed by Friday is not surprisingly
the most popular days for internet surfing, given that
users connect from home when they are free from work.
The Internet started in Egypt as a university
network in 1993. Free access was initially
given to Egyptian corporations, private and public sector
companies, governmental entities, NGOs, and professionals
to boost awareness. In 1996 the commercial part of the
Egyptian Internet was privatised, and 12 Internet Service
Providers (ISPs) started offering a fee based service.
A governmental project was launched to connect remote
areas through small satellite uplink modules, VSATs, and
thereby reducing the technological gap between urban area
like Cairo and Alexandria and remote areas as Kharga and
Sharm el Sheikh.
two Egyptian satellites, NileSat 101
and NileSat 102, provide increased connectivity
to the country, servicing broadcasting, internet, mobile
phones and video conferencing. There are 60 ISPs in the
country, and an estimated 500 000
academic, governmental, and commercial users. This constitutes
0.25 percent of the population, compared
to about 40 percent in developed countries.
average cost of Internet dialup access is around $20/month
in Cairo (down from $100/month in 1996). Access cost is
2-3 times higher outside Greater Cairo. These costs put
Internet well outside the reach of the general public,
especially in rural areas and outside major cities. The
number of cyber cafes, Internet clubs, social clubs, public
libraries, public schools and universities providing access
to the Internet have increased at an explosive rate.
addition, it is an expressed government priority to increase
Egypt's participation on the Internet. Aside from facilitating
access by privatising ISPs, and announcing a free governmental
access number, several options are being tried out. Technology
Access Community Centres (TACCs) is one of the options
being tried out. These are based on similar centres built
in the mid-eighties, to enhance computer literacy. Though
the TACCs are still in the pilot phase, the idea is to
place the virtual offices in central locations across
Egypt; offering free computer access, telephony, fax,
copiers and Internet.
the number of entrance ports to the Internet is increasing,
the large barriers remain. These include lack of computer
literacy, limited awareness, few skilled professionals
and scarcity of local information content. Language and
cultural barriers are especially important.
percent of the Egyptian population do not speak English,
while 90 percent of the Internet is in English.
these difficulties, the Arab presence on the internet
doubles each year. Arabic newspapers, such as Al Hayat
and others dedicate regular pages to the net. In 1998,
there were 34 Arabic language newspapers on the web, and
many organisations, opposition movements, private individuals
and businesses have their presence on the web. When this
author was researching for contact information about the
Egyptian Organisation of Human Rights, Legal Resource
and Research Centre, Alkan communications and Egyptian
Space Communication Company, everything needed was found
on the internet, not least on the bi-lingual homepages
of the organisations