Project on Middle East Democracy
The POMED Wire Archives
Syria: Teenage Blogger Sentenced to 5 Years in Prison
February 14th, 2011 by Alec
Syrian blogger, Tal al-Mallouhi
, a 19 year old female high school student, has been sentenced to 5 years in prison by a state security court on charges of spying for the U.S. Embassy in Egypt. She was first detained in December 2009 and had been held since then without charge. The UK - based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights released a statement (in Arabic) acknowledging al-Mallouhi’s sentencing. P.J. Crowley, State Department spokesman, also released a statementcondemning the sentencing and “secret trial” of al-Mallouhi, called for her immediate release, and denied all charges that she is an American spy.
Egypt: Internet and Cell Phone Service Restored
February 2nd, 2011 by Cole
Internet service was restored
earlier this morning at about 11:30 a.m. Egypt time. 3G, mobile web, and Blackberry services are also back up for some people.
Photo courtesy of Arbor Networks.
Egypt: How Do You Take An Entire Nation Offline?
January 28th, 2011 by Alec
The Egyptian government’s shutdown of the Internet in Egypt is being called an “action unprecedented in internet history.” The government has been able to leverage its “kill switch” on the Internet by shutting off the various DNS serves used by Egyptian ISPs. This is relatively easy for the Egyptian government to do as Telecom Egypt, the nation’s dominant ISP, is state-run. This also allows the government to spy on Internet users. Telecom Egypt has been sold “real-time traffic intelligence” technology by an American firm in California called Narus. The company also provides content-filtering technology that allows network managers to inspect, track, and target internet users. Total disruption of Internet service is alleged to have been planned well in advance by the Mubarak regime after events Tunisia. This is in contrast to previous assessments by groups such as Freedom House where Egypt was classified as not engaging in widespread censorship.
Internet traffic in Egypt between January 27th and January 28th:
Craig Labovitz’s graphic representation of Egypt’s internet blackout
Syria: Facebook Reportedly Blocked
January 28th, 2011 by Alec
Reuters is reporting that Facebook was blocked in Syria as of Friday. This comes after internet access in Egypt was blocked by the Egyptian government on Thursday. As in Egypt, Syria has been under “emergency rule” for decades.
Egypt: Tensions Run High as Friday Prayers Begin
January 28th, 2011 by Naureen
Our contacts in Cairo tell us that it was eerily quiet most of the morning and that all mobile phones went out a few hours ago. Friday prayers are now underway with a huge security presence in the streets. Police, security forces and groups of plain-clothes thugs are surrounding every mosque in the city. Protests will begin shortly, when prayers end, and people are starting to pour into the street now. It is very tense and while there is no known violence as of yet, there could be soon.
Experts Call to “Reinvigorate” Diplomacy and Engagement with Iran
January 20th, 2011 by Alec
The National Iranian American Council released a letter
Thursday, signed by a variety of Middle East experts and human rights and democracy advocates including POMED’s Executive Director Stephen McInerney, calling on the Obama administration to “reinvigorate” its diplomacy and engagement with Iran as the upcoming round of multilateral nuclear talks draws near: “Diplomacy is the only sustainable means of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, avoiding the dangerous folly of military confrontation in the Middle East, and enabling progress in other critical areas of U.S. interest, such as Afghanistan and the human rights situation within Iran.” The letter calls for engaging Iran in areas “beyond the nuclear file,” such as human rights, to create a “better climate for progress” on the nuclear issue. The U.S. should not “hold progress in one area hostage” contingent upon resolution of other issues.
Tunisia: Government Crackdown on Internet Freedom
January 5th, 2011 by Alec
Michael Collins Dunn
posting at the Middle East Institute’s Editor’s Blog, describes the Tunisian government’s campaign of website, E-mail, and Facebook hackings as a move to silence its critics. Other social media sites, such as YouTube and Flickr, are also being blocked. In response, Nawaat, a Tunisian opposition group, has posted at its blog a guide (French) on how to circumvent government internet restrictions.
Amira Al Hussaini,
writing at Global Voices, described the latest government attacks on internet freedom in Tunisia as retaliation for the hacking and defacement of Tunisian government websites by Anonymous, a “loosely-organised band of hacker activists and vigilantes.” The group has stated that it has taken action against the Tunisian government for “unilaterally declaring war on free speech and democracy.” The attacks are part of its Operation: Payback
Iran: A History of “Underground Media”
December 16th, 2010 by Jason
In a three part series
at Tehran Bureau, Dr. Afshin Marashi explores the complex relationship between the rulers of Iran and the press going back to the early 19th century. The establishment of newspapers by the expatriate communities in places like Baku and London helped spread discontent with the Qajar Dynasty (1794-1925), eventually leading to the Constitutional Revolution (1905-1911). In the early years of the Pahlavi Dynasty (1935-1979) the number of media outlets began to shrink as a result of the centralization enforced by Reza Shah Pahlavi
. Under Reza’s son, Muhammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, newspapers again flourished until the overthrow of Mosaddegh in 1953 and the re-establishment of state controls. Prior to the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran saw an explosion of “underground media,” perhaps best exemplified by spread of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s sermons on tape. Since the Revolution, tensions between Conservatives and Reformists have maintained a vacillating balance between state controlled media and underground media. Most recently, blogs and YouTube videos have taken the place of tape cassettes and pamphlets. Marashi writes that “the current phase of state control of the Iranian media should be seen in the broader context of the country’s modern history. […] As in earlier stages of Iran’s history, today’s democratic opposition has made extensive use of the latest technologies to circulate news, opinions, and calls for reform.”
Palestine: HRW Criticizes Detention of Blogger
December 6th, 2010 by Evan
Human Right Watch released a statement Sunday calling for the release of Palestinian blogger Walid Hasayin, who was arrested by the Palestinian General Intelligence Services on October 31, 2010. Hasayin has not been charged with a crime, but is suspected of posting statements on his blog criticizing Islam and other religions. Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said “The Palestinian authorities’ claim that Hasayin offended Muslims is no excuse for arbitrarily detaining him. The Palestinian judiciary should demonstrate its integrity by protecting the right to free expression and ordering Hasayin’s release and his safety.”
Egypt: New Technology Threatens NDP’s Grip
November 26th, 2010 by Evan
At The Guardian
’s Comment is Free, Amira Nowaira writes that while the NDP is virtually guaranteed a significant victory on Sunday, it is clear that the ruling party’s control over the Egyptian political system is eroding. “The time when citizens were relegated to the spectator seats is gone,” Nowaira writes, adding that new technology has opened the door for Egypt’s youthful population to participate directly in politics. The Associated Press’ Hadeel al-Shalchi reports that the ubiquity of camera-equipped mobile phones coupled with Facebook, Twitter, and election monitoring websites like u-shahid.org will help citizens expose electoral fraud in spite of government efforts to stifle domestic monitoring efforts.
Egypt: Blogger Kareem Amer Finally Released
November 17th, 2010 by Anna
After spending four years in prison, prominent Egyptian blogger Abdel Kareem Nabil
(who wrote under the name Kareem Amer
) has been released
, ten days beyond the end of his sentence. He was the first blogger in the country to be jailed specifically for his writings, and was charged with insulting Islam and the president. He was a vocal critic of conservative Muslims, calling Cairo’s Al-Azhar University a “university of terrorism” and describing the prophet Muhammed and his followers as “spillers of blood.” Nabil also called President Hosni Mubarak a “symbol of tyranny.” The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information has reported that he was beaten while in detention, and last week Amnesty International called on Egyptian authorities to release Nabil, pointing out that his sentence “was handed down for actions that amounted to no more than exercising his right to freedom of expression.”
Saudi Arabia: Facebook Briefly Banned After Having “Crossed a Line”
November 15th, 2010 by Anna
On Saturday, a Saudi official announced that Facebook would be blocked for not conforming with the government’s conservative values. According to the Associated Press
, the official claimed that Facebook had “crossed a line.” The ban, however, was temporary. Yesterday, a spokesman for the Communications and Information Technology Commission denied having blocked the site, calling the access problems an “accidental” glitch, and the site is now operational
Egypt: Al Dostor Writers Continue Publishing Online
November 5th, 2010 by Anna
Earlier this week, staff from the Egyptian daily Al Dostor announced
that they will continue to publish material on their website
, which they have renamed “The Real Al Dostor.” The domain name for the site is registered under Ibrahim Eissa
’s name – as such, it will maintain the same editorial policy as the original paper, according to the site’s managing editor Hesham Obia
. Al Masry Al Youm
reports that about 37 former writers for Al Dostor will contribute stories to the online version, and Eissa is reportedly paying them out of his own pocket while the team searches for sponsors. The newspaper’s former managing editor, Ibrahim Manour
, confirmed that the group plans to launch a print version “as soon as we get a new license.”
Turkey: YouTube Ban Reinstated
November 4th, 2010 by Evan
Just days after lifting the ban on YouTube, a Turkish court has once again blocked the popular video sharing site over controversial footage of opposition leader Deniz Baykal. “‘We’re back to square one, basically,’” Yaman Akdeniz, a professor of law at Bilgi University in Istanbul, told Eurasianet.org’s Yigal Schleifer. Despite calls from Turkish President Abdullah Gul for reform, the country’s contentious Internet law remains in effect.
Egypt: New Election Website, IRI Delegation to Egypt
November 3rd, 2010 by Jason
Al Masry Al Youm
has set up an English language website focusing on the upcoming elections. The website includes sections for photos, video, and media monitoring. Al Masry Al Youm
also has a report on the arrival of an International Republican Institute (IRI) delegation in Cairo. The delegation met with members of the National Council of Human Rights (NCHR) including the head of the parliamentary elections unit, Makram Mohamed Ahmed
, and Mahmoud Karem, NCHR secretary-general. According to the report, the delegation from IRI asked why NCHR had denied international election monitors access to the country. “‘It’s a popular decision coming from people, not the state,’” said Ahmed. Ahmed’s statement seems belied by polling data showing that the Egyptian people due, in fact, support international election monitors.
Turkey: YouTube Ban Lifted, Controversial Internet Law Still in Place
November 1st, 2010 by Evan
After two and a half years, Turkish officials lifted the nationwide ban on YouTube over the weekend. A Turkish court suspended the popular video sharing site in May 2008 because of offensive videos about the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. According to Turkish Transport Minister Binali Yildirim, whose office is responsible for Internet regulation, the offending videos were removed last week, clearing the way for YouTube to once again operate in Turkey. In a statement, YouTube said that it had not removed the videos and the Turkish press reported that a Turkish businessman living in Germany bought the rights to the videos and subsequently took them down. Despite the end of the YouTube ban, Turkey’s controversial Internet crimes law remains in place and according to observers over 6,000 websites are still censored by Turkish officials.
Egypt: Satellite TV Clampdown Fits with Broader Trends
October 28th, 2010 by Anna
in The Economist today highlights new restrictions on satellite television and other forms of media in Egypt. The government recently tightened controls over the state-owned Nilesat satellite channels, which broadcast various news programs, religious and lifestyle channels, and other programming. To some extent, the crackdown seems to be in response to an uptick in programming voicing support for conservative Salafist parties. However, the restrictions fit within a broader context of tightening media control in the region, according to the article. The Egyptian government, for example, “has taken subtle measures to regain controls over the media that had slipped in recent years, [which] range from new licensing requirements for the upload of video footage via its satellites, to quiet warnings to media owners to mute dissident voices.” Many observers suspect that these moves are meant to enhance government control over the media in the run-up to the parliamentary elections in November. Although, as the article notes, “Egypt’s press remains relatively free compared with that of its Arab neighbours” (the country moved up in this year’s “Reporters Without Borders” annual index of world press freedom), the satellite clampdown is cause for concern.
Is the Internet Really “Pro-Democratic?”
October 26th, 2010 by Jason
In an article titled “Democracy in Cyberspace” published in Foreign Affairs
, Ian Bremmer argues that while the internet provides a tool for reformers and democracy advocates, it is not a silver bullet: “Innovations in modern communications may help erode authoritarian power over time. But for the moment, their impact on international politics is not so easy to predict.” Bremmer makes the point that “tools are value neutral; there is nothing inherently pro-democratic about them. To use them is to exercise a form of freedom, but it is not necessarily a freedom that promotes the freedom of others.” The internet is a “dark place” Bremmer says, where the power of communication can be used to promote illiberal values as easily as democratic ideals.
There is also the problem of nations “rethink[ing] their definitions of ‘critical infrastructure.’” The increasing importance of the internet to the world economy and the security implications of “cyber warfare” are causing some governments to treat the internet as a space to be defended and controlled. “The result will be a world that has not one Internet but a set of interlinked intranets closely monitored by various governments […] American and European users will access the same Internet as before, but the Chinese government has already made clear its intention to declare sovereignty over an Internet of its own. Other authoritarian states have every incentive to follow its lead.”
Firewall-Busting Technology Holds Potential in Democracy Promotion
October 25th, 2010 by Anna
In the Washington Post
today, Jackson Diehl describes the role of firewall-busting technology in facilitating opposition movements in authoritarian states. One company, called UltraReach, enables people to access web sites banned by their governments, and about half of the system’s users are Iranian. With additional funding, the company’s founders say they could “effectively destroy the Internet controls of Iran and most other dictatorships,” writes Diehl. There have been some small efforts in Congress to help fund firewall-busting firms, which have collectively formed the Global Internet Freedom Consortium. State Department funding for internet freedom programs has been limited by “bureaucratic slowness,” however, in spite of calls
from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
and Michael Posner to defeat internet censorship by authoritarian regimes. Diehl laments that although the technology and funding exist, “the agency still hesitates to act.”
Iran: Regime Encourages Citizen Journalism, Restricts University Curricula
October 25th, 2010 by Anna
at Radio Free Europe follows up
on last week’s reports
that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
called on Iranians to report on his trip to Qom through photo and video footage, which has been published
on his website. IRNA, Iran’s state news agency, has also been encouraging (Farsi) citizen journalism, asking average Iranians to become “honorary journalist[s]” by reporting on events they see in their communities. Esfandiari predicts that “the citizen journalism the Iranian establishment is promoting is likely to be tightly monitored and subject to censorship.”
Also related to censorship, Iranian leaders announced
a review of university curricula on Sunday. Abolfazl Hassani, head of Education Development at the Ministry of Education, reportedly said: “Expansion of 12 disciplines in the social sciences like law, women’s studies, human rights, management, sociology, philosophy….psychology and political sciences will be reviewed,” in part because they have been deemed too “Western.” New university departments in these fields will not be permitted, and existing curricula will be “revised,” according to Reuters.
U.S. Government-Related Resources
The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of POMED as an organization