More turbulence for Arabs: Surfers beware, internet crackdown on horizon

Published August 31st, 2012 - 14:05 GMT

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Sheikh Meshaal al-Malek al-Sabah
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Image 1 of 11: Kuwait: The Gulf state won't be arranging mass tweet-ups anytime soon. Even the ruling family aren't spared from the arrests as the Kuwaiti government cracks down on politically critical tweets. Sheikh Meshaal al-Malek al-Sabah was the latest victim, detained for his "outrageous views" online.

Bahraini blogger Nabeel Rajab arrested
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Image 1 of 11: Bahrain: Voices of dissent online are not tolerated in this Gulf state. Al Bawaba website is blocked among many as the government tries to conceal ongoing rumblings of a revolution. Blogger-tweep, Nabeel Rajab, was sentenced to 3 years in jail just last week for his online & in-person protests, as his 140,000 followers were quick to re-tweet.

The 'Hand of my freedom' poster
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Image 1 of 11: Lebanon: They're known as a haven of internet tolerance but even those liberal Lebanese are cracking down on online freedoms. The government tried to rush through a law earlier this year stopping anything offensive to 'public morals' being published online. But they weren't prepared for the huge backlash from bloggers, NGOs and tweeps.

Iraqi parliament
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Image 1 of 11: Iraq: The government claimed they were trying to stop 'insurgents' but human rights groups were not so sure. Iraqi lawmakers faced a barrage of criticism over their vaguely worded draft bill last month which included life sentences for 'undermining national security' with posts or tweets.

7oryanet: The red fist a movement in Jordan to protect web-freedoms
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Image 1 of 11: Jordan: Earlier this week the Jordanian government tried to pass through a law curbing online freedoms. Dressed up as an attack on porn, this was censorship in action. The result? A 24 hour protest by bloggers, websites and tweeps blacking out sites and shutting down posts.

Screenshot from a proxy site
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Image 1 of 11: Syria: The Assad regime has long been the internet pariah of the Mideast with ordinary Syrians using proxys and other tools to login to their Facebook accounts & connect with the rest of the world. But with the FSA relying heavily on YouTube, Twitter & Facebook to get their message across, perhaps a loosening of the online rules is on the agenda.

Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan
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Image 1 of 11: Turkey: The Turkish PM has been on the receiving end of plenty of criticism online and in the papers since he took office but last month he decided enough was enough. Slowly the tide is turning and journalists are being threatened or imprisoned. It doesn't bode well for online freedoms in the Ottoman state.

Al-Dustour newspaper
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Image 1 of 11: Egypt: He might have been elected by the people but the new Egyptian president didn't want to hear what they had to say about him. Earlier this month he closed down Al-Dustour newspaper and said he'd be censoring any reports that 'incited violence or unrest'. Oh, or if they insulted him. Egyptian netizens started to feel deja-vu.

Usamah Mohamad's Tweeter profile
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Image 1 of 11: Sudan: Never a big fan of internet freedoms, the Sudanese government stepped up their game following the recent Arab-Spring-like protests (#sudanrevolts). Well-known tweep, Usamah Mohamad, was released this week following arrest & torture for his tweets. He locked his phone before authorities could get to it, leaving them technologically stumped.

Tunisia TV station Ettunisiya
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Image 1 of 11: Tunisia: Under Ben Ali, YouTube was banned and you could be arrested for a forum post but things have changed now right? Well not as far as some Tunisians are concerned. This week satirical TV channel, Ettounsiya, was shut down for its criticisms and media control looks like it's slipping back into government hands.

Green revolution, Iran
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Image 1 of 11: Iran: Arguably the Iranians pioneered the art of online protest, using Twitter and other forums to plan their demonstrations in 2009. The so-called Green Revolution was played out on the social media networks but since then restrictions remain and government criticism is a game of proxys and anonymous posts.

Freedom of speech in the Middle East? Well not if it's distributed on the internet. Arab Internet 'surfers' are hitting a snag, or rip-current, in the region, and they might not be able to ride these waves of change. 

Are the tides turning against Arab internet users? Human rights NGO, Reporters Without Borders, have officially classified Bahrain, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria as 'Enemies of the Internet' but there are others not yet on the list that are well on their way to becoming online pariahs. Under surveillance so-to-speak are Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey but countries like Iraq and Jordan are also cracking down on internet freedom. Even ostensibly permissive Lebanon is trying to remind internet users that the Sky (Bar's) not the limit. With so many countries on the 'enemies' list from the Arab world we should ask ourselves - why?

Middle East governments would have us believe that they are censoring for our own good: after all, who wants their kids to stumble across hardcore pornography online? But there is a more sinister motive. If the freedom to criticize a government with anonymity is disabled then who are they really accountable to? It was George Orwell who said 'freedom is the right to tell people what they don't want to hear.'  Now more than ever that is true for the Middle Eastern governments who seek to stamp out their citizens' rights online.

For Arabs at least the information super-highway is fast-approaching a dark tunnel as governments restrict the right to live in the fast-lane.  Those wild days of internet freedom to blog boldly may be counted. As we write, countries in the region are clamping down on their citizens' right to surf with abandon, by way of introducing laws to censor and curb their online enthusiasm.

Above, a screen-shot of the Middle East's internet crackdown.

 

What do you think of the Middle East's internet clampdown? Have your free say in this space below.

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