Purpose of Study is to investigate
whether the technologies of satellite television,
mobile phones and the internet has increased freedom
of speech for non-governmental groups in Cairo.
has been in a state of emergency throughout Hosni
Mubarak's presidency, giving the head of state wide
executive powers. This task has long since been delegated
to various government offices, most notably the Ministry
of Interior and the Ministry of Information.
is a governmental monopoly. International
publications are censored and occasionally
banned. Domestic publications are
not censored, but licensed in advance and libelled
in posterior. Meanwhile the World is going through
rapid changes. Globalisation has in the last decade
forced Egypt to deregulate, albeit at its own pace.
Satellite dishes are readily available, the Internet
is uncensored and private mobile phone companies have
focus of the study
will be placed on these forms of satellite technologies,
and whether its usage diminishes governmental control
of the Problem
Satellite technology has increased
freedom of speech in Egypt.
problem will be investigated according to the usage
among non-governmental groups of mobile phones, internet
and satellite broadcasting. It is important to look
at both sending and receiving information, as an increase
in freedom of speech requires the audience to be able
to share their newly gathered knowledge.
What is the spread of satellite dishes, internet and
mobile phones in Egypt? Do opposition groups and NGOs
use satellite technologies? Has Satellite telecommunications
helped liberalise freedom of expression in Egypt?
of the Research Questions
The nineties are reported by a number of
independent analysts as a dark age for freedom of
speech in Egypt. The Committee for the Protection
of Journalists, an organisation monitoring free speech,
named President Hosni Mubarak
as one of the "top ten enemies
of the press" in 1998. The International
Press Institute echoed this, and introduced its annual
country report with the words "Censorship
was rife in Egypt this year".
gloomy state of freedom of speech in Egypt is, however,
not a new phenomenon. In 1966, when
the first survey of Press Independence and Critical
Ability (PICA) was conducted, Egypt was ranked among
the most "oppressive nations"
in the world. This was under the presidency of Gamal
the survey was repeated ten years later, with President
Anwar Sadat at the helm, the results were the same.
Last year, in 1999, Egypt was
still ranked among the worst countries for press freedom.
Mubarak, it seems, has not done much to improve freedom
of expression. Egypt has kept a stable but oppressive
hand on press freedom for most of its modern history.
The limited range of television broadcasting, and
the necessity of a publication to be physically present
in the country, has greatly simplified the Egyptian
government's monitoring task. Nationalisation of the
media and controlling the borders has historically
worked well, but the entrance of satellites has obscured
dependence on international investors and tourism
has forced the country to privatise much of its public
With it, the government has had to accept less control
over its national resources. This includes the ability
of the population to receive uncensored satellite
television, mobile phones and the internet.
Egypt formally ranks among the worst nations for freedom
of expression, the increased availability of independent
news sources forces the government to present social
and political information on its monopolised media
outlets. The usage of satellite technologies is not
yet widespread, and
it is the aim of this thesis to explore how widespread
the usage of the new opportunities is among dominant
non-governmental groups or affiliations.
is communication, voice, data or video, which use
satellite for whole or part of the communication event.
Usage of satellite technologies is end-user oriented,
and includes Satellite broadcasting, Mobile phones
and the internet. Mobile phones are based on a cellular
system, but link to a satellite for international
calls. The internet is linked to the landline telephone
system, but link to a satellite for international
websites. I therefore include them in the definition.
of speech was
defined as the non-interference of the government
in communication between individuals or organisations,
while freedom of the press was defined
as the non-interference of the government in publishing.
Freedom of speech therefore
includes freedom of the press, but not the other way
These definitions are slight modifications
of the Freedom of Information Centres 1966
definition of freedom of the press, where a free press
was defined as One in which newspapers, periodicals,
news agencies, books, radio and television have absolute
independence and critical ability, except for minimal
libel and obscenity laws. The press has no concentrated
ownership, marginal economic units or organised self-regulation.
modifications were made in order to accommodate the
situation in Egypt, where the society as a whole lives
in a restricted environment. Examples include the
emergency law, political affiliation and freedom of
equipment is expensive, and requires a threshold of
technical know-how. Satellite television is read-only.
Once the antenna has been set up, it is relatively
easy to use, as it demands little inter-reaction from
the user.The internet, on the other hand, is send
and receive. It requires literacy,
computer literacy and preferably English literacy
with a per capita income of USD $ 1 180, a 51 percent
literacy rate and a 10 percent English literacy rate,
not fare well in this context.
Only a few have the educational requirement for modern
communication technologies, and even fewer can afford
it. A selection of Non-governmental groups
were therefore contacted.
author assumed that organisations have a greater financial
basis from which to make hardware investments, and
that they possessed the required technological know-how.
These organisations were also assumed to carry greater
social impact than private individuals, due to their
frequent media exposure and publication efforts.
of the thesis was to assess if and how the information
gathered by the ones with access to satellite communication
is trickled down to the rest of the population. Non
governmental groups are political, civic or private
organisations who are not members of the ruling National
Democratic Party.The organisations were spread over
different sectors in society, such as non-profit organisations,
private enterprise and media.
included in the study Non-governmental organisations
(NGOs) · Egyptian Organisation for
Human Rights (EOHR) Hafez Abu Se'da; Secretary
general · Legal Resource and Research
Centre (LRRC) Amir Salem; Director Private
satellite companies · Alkan Communication
(Ahmed Nosseir group) Abdel Rahman Omar, Director
· Space Communication Company
(Orascom group) Hossam Ali, Chief engineer Private
media companies · Cairo Times Hisham
interviewed by other than the author: · Orascom
Telecommunications Naguib Sawiris, Chairman
and C.E.O. (Al Ahram) · Showtime
Peter Einstein, Chief Executive Officer (TBS journal)
· Orbit Alexander Zilo, Chief
Executive Officer (TBS journal) Egyptian Radio
and Television Union · Amin Bassiouni,
Chairman and C.E.O. (TBS journal)
organisations were selected on basis of size. The
Egyptian Space Communication Company and
Alkan are parts of the Orascom and
Nosseir groups, respectively. These are among the
largest enterprises in the country, and the only operators
licensed to sell advanced satellite equipment in Egypt.
and LRRC both enjoy observer status
with the African Commission on People's and Human
Rights, and are frequently cited in the Egyptian media
on human rights and free speech issues. It proved
difficult to obtain comparative membership lists for
NGOs, but the EOHR and LRRC are definitely among the
most controversial when it comes to freedom of speech
issues. Both organisations publish newsletters in
two languages on a regular basis, which are distributed
to members and others who show interest. EOHR is without
doubt the most internationally known NGO, based on
the international media coverage its leader, Hafez
Abu Se'da received when he was charged by the Egyptian
government earlier this year.
Times is the only independent weekly newsmagazine
in English in Egypt. There is another newspaper, The
Middle East Times, but this paper has chosen a far
less confrontational stance against the government.
I therefore chose to interview the publisher of Cairo
Times, Mr. Hisham Kassem. Cairo Times have unsuccessfully
been trying for over four years to get a domestic
press license, but is still regarded by the government
as a "foreign" publication, despite its
publisher being Egyptian, its main office situated
in Cairo and written for the Egyptian market. As a
foreign publication, the Cairo Times are liable to
censorship and occasional banning.
and Showtime are among the most popular
satellite channels received in Egypt. Their respective
comments have been included where relevant. The most
controversial satellite channel in the region is perhaps
the Al-Jazira, which broadcast from Qatar. While Jazira's
programming remains controversial in the region, Hussein
Amin commented to Egypt's Insight that Qatar's domestic
broadcasting is much less controversial: "Jazira
is one thing, but Qatari national TV is something
completely different. It is worse than Egyptian TV"
author failed to get in touch with any representatives
from Al-Jazira, despite numerous
attempts. The channel recently opened a branch office
in the Media City in Cairo, and reportedly had agreed
to an "Arab code of ethics."
is the most important media and communication centre
in Egypt. Apart from being the capital, most media
and telecommunication companies have their headquarters
here. The country's largest NGO, the Egyptian Organisation
for Human Rights, is situated
in Cairo. Though specific results of the thesis will
speak for Cairo alone, I assume that the found level
of tolerance applies to the country as a whole.
The aim of the thesis is to compare the perceived
level of freedom of expression with media usage. Freedom
of expression can take many forms, and is relevant
for all organisations in the country. However, a bias
might exist among governmental and National Democratic
Party officials to avoid criticising the state they
are employed by. I will therefore focus on the media
usage and exposure among non-governmental or semi-private
C. Merrill recommends
content analysis to investigate the pluralism of media
usage and exposure. He also
recommends focusing on individuals. It does not really
matter how many media outlets there are as long as
the individual does not have an opportunity to receive
in Egypt is a difficult task. Aside from the language
barrier, there is a difficulty in arranging, and an
unwillingness to participate. Previous experience
has taught me that though appointments are hard to
get, people are very open once the opportunity to
ask is present. The arena for satellite communication
is not extensive. Estimates for satellite dishes in
Egypt ranges from 800 000 and up, and there are 61
million people in the country. Only a few have access
to the media, mobile and internet services.
ones who can afford the satellite technologies, however,
are among the most influential in Egypt. Media personnel,
private or semi-private companies and NGOs can be
seen as an alternate power-base to the government.
It is the aim of this study to analyse the responses
given, and find whether the Non-governmental organisations
have increased their communication channels. The
non-governmental groups were not selected by random,
nor do they constitute a significant part of non-governmental
groups in Egypt.
in this study is therefore only valid for the organisations
included in the study. The organisations are leaders
in their field of specialisation, be it from the technical
side or from the content side. The findings are
therefore relevant for the research question, whether
satellite communication has increased free speech
4 April 2000. Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights
(EOHR) Secretary General Hafez Abu Se'da
is the most important method of communication for
the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights. They use
fax, email and cellular phones as well as extensive
fieldwork. EOHR has noticed an increase in the volume
of emails over the last year, and gets at least one
human rights related email from within Egypt per day.
The most important way of spreading information for
the EOHR is through radio. BBC, Monte Carlo and Voice
of America are widely listened to, and the Egyptian
people have long since learned to trust the broadcasting
in Arabic that comes from these stations.
radio, the opposition press is seen as the most efficient
information channel. In addition to these, EOHR operates
a mailing list (email) to news agencies and embassies,
and publish newsletters and reports (bilingual). Though
not mentioning satellite television as a way of spreading
information, Hafez Abu Se'da commented later that
"I am known in Egypt because of satellite channels
outside Egypt". When he was charged with receiving
foreign funding while in Paris in March 1999, he did
an interview for the Qatar based Al-Jazira channel,
and received "a lot" of responses as a result.
In all he has done ten interviews for satellite television,
including Orbit and ANN. EOHR does not use satellite
television at the offices, but Hafez Abu Se'da has
a satellite receiver at home, where he in particular
follow the English speaking CNN and BBC and the Arabic
ANN and Al-Jazira.
of speech Abu Se'da: I am sure that both
the EOHR phones and his home phones are being monitored.
The media - including the opposition and the independent
press - are being "coerced"
by selective distribution of government advertising.
The government pays particular attention to control
19 April 2000 Legal Resource and Research Centre (LRRC)
Amir Salem, Secretary General
uses telephone, fax, email, Internet and their homepage
in addition to their publishing. They issue two newspapers
- People's rights and Women's rights - and have published
47 books in the last 10 years. Radio is used when
they "come and interview us"
of speech Salem: We are in doubt whether
our phones are tapped. We say so, but we have no access
to control this. This is the same for everybody. Television
is totally controlled by the government. They don't
understand. It is not only the opposition that is
banned. Even civil society and intellectuals are not
shown. I don't know about mobile phones and the Internet.
Some say the government has the technology to monitor
what is going on, but I don't know.
do not agree with the reports that say Egypt is among
the worst countries when it comes to freedom of speech.
I think Egypt has marginalised the space for freedom
of speech, but it is better than a number of other
countries. Where there is total control is freedom
of journalism and freedom of establishing or issuing
a newspaper. In that part you can say it is the worst.
Critical information about the government is available
from a number of sources.
government allows many types of freedom of expression
- including attacks on the government and such descriptions
of sensitive issues such as corruption - but at the
moment they think they have to have this kind of law
to control journalists and publishers.
The government is very sensitive for these newspapers
to touch the top of estate. Talk about whatever you
want, but don't go here. There is a red line.
11 April 2000 Alkan Communications Abdel Rahman Omar,
largest sector is voice data and video networks. We
extend networks to outlying areas, where it is not
economically feasible to build landline or microwave
systems. There is nothing on the way to these remote
areas and it would not be cost effective to use anything
else than satellite. The only thing these outlying
reaches need is an earth station. No construction,
GSM poles or microwave. We can have them in operation
in a week that will cover voice, data and video.
government is per se not involved. What used to be
the [telecommunications] company became a company
in its own right. Whoever meets customer demand will
of speech Omar: I lived in Saudi Arabia when
they tried to ban satellite dishes, but it was difficult
to enforce. Any political organisation will have to
be forced to offer these services. They simply can
not stop it. The role of the Egyptian government is
mainly to regulate and monitor rather than prohibit.
They are participating in the process.
is no doubt that sooner or later free broadcasting
will be allowed. It is a matter of time. No power
on earth can stop something that is popular and has
a market demand. Relatively simple equipment is needed,
which is already present in Egypt. All that is needed
is the expertise as to where to direct the dish, and
you are in business. An earth station can be set up
within a week and telephone, data and video will be
available. Television is the cheapest. It is only
one way, and needs no ground station. I cannot say
if these developments will have a spillover effect,
liberalising the printed press as well.
20 April 2000 Egyptian Space Communications Company
(ESC) Hossam Ali, Sales & Marketing manager
are licensed to sell VSAT - Very Small Aperture Terminal
- servers , but Telecom Egypt does the billing. Equipment,
installation and operation must conform to Telecom
Egypt criteria. We supply monthly reports to them
so that they can do the billing.
Voice Service is used where there is no infrastructure.
Like oil companies in the desert or remote cities
like Sharm El Sheikh, St. Catherine, Hurgadha or Toshka.
We have customers like IDSC - the Information Decision
Support Centre and the National Bank of Egypt. Private
companies include Assyout cement, Schlamberger, Halliburtion,
National Societé Royal and MobiNil.
companies need this service to connect remote drilling
stations with the labs in Cairo. Tests can thus be
analysed in Cairo and sent back for execution. Also
Internet with email is available. Besides voice, of
course. We install it, and then inform Telecom Egypt.
of speech There is no interception of the
data. We monitor the link, of course, but we are not
tapping the data or even the voice. We monitor for
billing purposes, where, when and what duration calls
have. These data we collect and send to Egypt Telecom
for billing. They do not know the content of the transmissions.
The VSAT service is not available for individuals.
VSAT is very expensive, USD $ 30 000 to 40 000.
licence is for Egypt only. Like if some multinational
company wants to be interregional, it is reviewed
case by case. We must ask for an official letter of
request that we forward to Egypt Telecom. They have
to approve. It is illegal to import or possess VSAT
equipment without a licence. Even with a licensed
company like ours. I have to go to the customs when
we receive equipment from Japan. Everything is under
City, 14 May 2000 Cairo Times Hisham Kassem, Publisher
Times is an English-language weekly printed in the
Freezone in Nasr City. Due to problems of registering
a press license in Egypt, the paper is part of the
"Cyprus press". The Cyprus press is a denominator
for all publications registered abroad, regardless
whether they are registered in Cyprus or not.
Times have to submit their blueprints to the censor's
office prior to publication, and have had several
issues banned. The censored articles are available
from Cairo times' website. Mr. Kassem is also a board
member of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights.
Everybody's phones are being tapped. The government
has fortunately decided not to tamper with the web.
A few years ago, my mail used to come in a plastic
bag. I called up security and told them that if they
at least had the decency to reseal it, I wasn't going
to anything. They stopped tearing up the mail. So
I was happy with that. Though I think it is an invasion
of my private life.
of speech On one hand you have the satellite
city for broadcasting and on the other hand you have
the Ministry of Interior trying to subject publishers
to register with it as if they were common criminals
or ex cons. I heard that there are 35 publications
being harassed in the Freezone [Government area for
printing]. They are staying clear from me. And of
the 35 publications none has made a noise, or said
anything. We are left largely alone because Cairo
Times fight back any harassment.
example of Al Arabi is typical. When they hired
editor Gamal Fahmi, [the magazine] was presented with
a bill of 600 000 pounds from the Al-Ahram printing
house. When he was fired, the bill was delayed.
Se'da: Egyptians can be seen on Al-Jazira now, which
they couldn't before.
Broadcasting to other countries is regulated by international
law. However, it is difficult to monitor and enforce.
In effect, anyone can receive from wherever. There
is a black / grey market where satellite equipment
is either smuggled or produced locally to bypass Telecom
Egypt and the Ministry of Information.
Satellite dishes are receive only. Anybody can get
that cheap. Dishes are also produced locally. A dish
costs anything between USD $ 800 - 2000. Some relatives
of mine have two dishes and two receivers, set for
the C and the Ku band. There is not much they cannot
receive. Not everybody needs VSAT.
To have a dish does not mean political information.
You get the whole spectre. Only some channels, like
El Jazira, really annoys the government. The other
channels CNN, BBC may be an annoyance when it comes
to [Air Egypt's] flight 990, but normally they have
minimal coverage of Egypt. The main problem with the
satellite channels is that they expose Egyptian television.
The cost is less than banning it completely. It is
only fundamentalist or countries with a total media
black out that does this. Starting media city was
a Ministry of Information attempt to attract investments.
Jordan and Kuwait announced they were starting up
media cities and Egypt joined the race. Then they
come up with all this ethnical professional standards
Abu Se'da: the entire Internet in Egypt goes through
a government server. Until now there has been no censorship,
and there is a chance for freedom of expression in
Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic groups and
the Human Rights movements are all present on the
Internet with their own web pages.
The internet is the most important satellite technology.
Satellite television is about what sells, but the
internet belongs to the people. For example, even
the five permanent members of the security council
had to back down following the internet campaign against
landmines. The internet is individualism
while satellites are corporate. I am on an e-group
now passing information along that we get from the
Abu Se'da: Cellular has increased people's ability
to communicate with each other
Sometimes, if we don't want to break the news of the
meeting we have, we not only shut off the phones,
but take out the batteries as well. There is technology
to monitor phones and the Egyptian
government has it. Other times we arrange a meeting
place, and move from there to somewhere in the open.
Se'da: The emergency law is applied all the time to
all sectors. The government can sensor according to
this law, even if it is not allowed in the constitution.
They have not done this yet, but the newspapers know
that the government can do it. For instance in my
recent case, when I was charged for accepting foreign
funding by the Egyptian government when I was in Paris.
It was also based on the emergency law, and I was
transferred to the highest military court. We fight
against this - that civilians can be referred to military
courts, and that the government holds people for long
periods of time without having being tried by law.
The emergency law has been in effect since 1910. It
has just stopped for six months, I think. It is applied
to all sectors. The difference between military courts
and civilian courts is that the military court's decision
cannot be appealed. It gives the government two options.
It varies on level, type and publicity.
attitude towards satellite technology Abu Se'da: There
is a limited governmental control. This is why the
new technologies support the human rights and the
movement of the people. The government couldn't stop
the information highway, as we now have many channels
of communications. Email, fax, mobile and satellite
channels. In Syria they tried to ban access to the
Internet. So people called Lebanon, and connected
to an Internet server there. It is perhaps more expensive,
but it is the way it works.
The government did not have a choice about allowing
satellite technology. This is the New World, where
no one can allow or disallow. It is a question of
the market. We are acting like good consumers in the
open market. It is not about freedom. Egypt started
early to open the market for these things.
There has been a global trend towards deregulation.
It was clear from experience in other countries. Governmental
institutions proved inflexible. They were not meeting
customer demand, and could see the international trend
sweeping over the United States, Europe and then the
Middle East. We are just a couple of years behind.
We are in the initial stage of deregulation. The telecommunication
network is well built out. It uses the same technology
as broadcasting, and we can switch just like that.
TV and video is still a Ministry of Information monopoly,
and we are not allowed to broadcast news or movies.
The government has drawn a solid line between broadcasting
and telecommunication, while there is little actual
difference between them.
Telecom Egypt (before Arento) controls all communication
through a regulatory board. They are responsible for
frequency bands and licenses to the network. They
offer licenses for mobile phone networks, pay phones
and VSAT applications. Broadcasting does not belong
to Egypt Telecom. This is the responsibility of the
Ministry of Information. Satellite television is only
one way. We are doing inter-reactive services. Kassem:
The government tolerates the satellite technology
because it is the elites who use it. The only threat
to the government is financial. They needed the technology
to attract investors. All countries have a mobile
network. In any event, it will take time before the
population learns to use the
new technology. Plus it is a sure way to step out
of history. Even the French, who were against the
internet, had to use it in the end. They have no option.
of Free Speech
Abu Se'da: There is definitely more freedom of speech
now than it was ten years ago. There are more channels
of communication. If you want to contact me later,
you can give me a call on the phone or the mobile,
send me an email or a fax.
If we are talking about newspapers, the situation
ten years ago was the same as now. If we are talking
about civil society, there was a syndicate movement
in the 1980's. Lawyers, doctors and engineers. Real
freedom of speech fought by struggle. And that is
why the government by their won tactics decided to
destroy these movements.And they succeeded during
the 1990's to do so. Also, there is the press law
that came in the late 90's.
it must be said that the 80's and 90's were much better
than the 70's and the 60's. At least now we have the
Cyprus newspapers (Unlicensed Egyptian publications
that are based in Cyprus). The Internet will force
open new space for freedom of speech, but at the same
time this technology is only for the elites and the
rich. They might allow this kind of technology because
they know from the beginning that there are 50 percent
illiteracy and the ones enjoying this technology of
communication is not more than ten percent of the
population. I have the freedom to meet with you and
tell you everything, but we are doing this in a closed
room with an airconditioner. That is what I mean,
the elites are dealing with the elites. And the government
understands the game very well and it will not pass
ten percent of the population.
There has been better access to information with satellite
technology, but I am not sure whether freedom of speech
has increased as a result of it. There is more freedom
of speech today than ten years ago, but the effect
is very limited. I can only compare to Canada [Where
he has lived for the past 30 years]. There I can offer
a suggestion and expect some kind of reaction. Here
I am not so sure that the action materialises. In
other words: I can talk - but so what?
Freedom of speech has increased all over the world
because of the developments in satellite communication.
Satellite dishes have not really increased freedom
in Egypt, because they are receive only. Mobiles are
difficult to track, and have made life easier. It's
quicker, and therefore accelerates business.
The government was more tolerant ten years ago, but
there is more freedom of speech today. The government
had more economic control then. Before they were running
everything, and could be more tolerant. There was
Cold War money being pumped in, as the government
could not be allowed to collapse. Now it is an open
economy and the state can no longer be tolerant in
order to stay in power.