The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
www.hrinfo.net
www.hrinfo.org
The Internet In the Arab World
A New Space of Repression?

  • Acknowledgements
  • Overview
  • UAE : The best, but . . .
  • Jordan : A Ray of Light
  • Bahrain : One step forward, one step back
  • Tunisia : The First, The Worst
  • Saudi : Banning and Blocking Are Easy Steps
  • Syria : Internet under Siege
  • Iraq : A look behind bars
  • Qatar : A step forward
  • Libya : The Internet in a conflict zone
  • Egypt : A False Freedom
  • Yemen : All Roads Lead Backwards
  • Recommendations
  • Technical Advice




         This study was written by Gamal Eid, legal researcher and the executive director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information.

         It contains eleven sections on eleven Arab countries, an overview of the Internet in the Arab world, and recommendations to the Arab governments in an attempt to create a free Internet in the Arab world.      The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information would like to thank Emad Mubarak, the legal researcher and lawyer at Hisham Mubarak Law Center, for his valuable contributions to this study.

         HRINFO also thanks Eman Herzallah, the translator at HRINFO, who translated this study into English, and Anand Balakrishnan, who edited the English version.

         HRINFO also would like to thank the Middle East Online website, the B.B.C website, Elaph Electronic newspaper, Al-Hayat newspaper and Al-Bayan Emirate newspaper. They dedicate special coverage in their pages to the latest developments in the realm of Internet use in the Arab world; their coverage provided the study with much useful material.





      "we are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence of conformity"
         This statement-a quote from John Berry's "Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace"-is published on the "wadad.net" website. Its sentiment might stand true for most countries of the world, but the current situation faced by Internet users in Arab countries casts doubt upon the words above and the hope they express.

         With the introduction of Internet access and the relatively rapid growth in Internet users (who now number nearly 14 million) in Arab states, several pressing questions have surfaced amongst Arab Internet users:
    • Do Arab Internet users enjoy the privacy and freedom they had hoped for in their correspondences and cyber-activities?
    • Does the Internet really provide them with the space of freedom denied to them in other media by their governments?
    • By what laws would they be judged if they transgressed legal boundaries regarding Internet use, boundaries that are arbitrarily, if at all, defined by their governments?
         The Internet has provided a great number of citizens in Arab nations and the rest of the world with the opportunity to express their beliefs and declare their ideologies. Particularly benefiting from the opportunities afforded by the Internet are groups historically deprived of their freedom of expression. In Arab nations leftists, Islamists, and human rights groups were deprived of their freedom of expression for political reasons; Shiites and Christians deprived for religious ones; and homosexuals deprived of their freedom of expression due to both social and religious reasons.

          Soon after they gained access to the Internet these groups, whether organized or not, took advantage of the opportunities and facilities it provided. Groups with an Islamic vision and message have been especially active and successful in this regard.

          However, these groups, which have widely differing goals and backgrounds, soon realized that the Internet was not entirely free. Arab governments perceived this newly emergent means of communication, with its promise of freedom from government dominion, as constituting a threat and, accordingly, began to do their best to control the Internet and its users.

         In dealing with this new medium, Arab governments have resorted to their traditional methods of curtailing freedom of expression: censorship and confiscation. They developed their techniques of censorship so as to best address the demands of the new technology. Arab governments installed Electronic Filtering Programs to control access to "trouble" sources on the Internet. Some Arab states, like Saudi and Tunisia, granted a monopoly over Internet service to one state run company in order to best exercise control over Internet use.

          These new techniques are used in addition to the more traditional and more commonly used solution which is to forge charges and prosecute any person who may transgress the unidentified line between that which is permitted and that which is prohibited. Typical charges leveled by governments against Internet users are those of defamation, harming the state's reputation, and violating public morality.

          Some Arab governments avoid these regulations, choosing instead to totally deprive their people of Internet access. The former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, for example, justified his prohibition of Internet use by claiming that the Internet is an "American propaganda tool."

          All this governmental activity, and yet the Internet is still in its infancy in the Arab region. Tunisia was the first Arab nation to have access to the Internet in 1991; by the beginning of the second half of the 1990s, the Internet had been introduced to the public in all Arab states except for Saudi Arabia, which provided its citizens with Internet access in 1999, and Iraq, which did so in 2000.

          It seems that initially many Arab governments did not fully appreciate the degree of freedom the Internet grants its users. Thus, at first, state policy encouraged governmental bodies to use the Internet and exempted computer equipment from import tariffs so as to help citizens to own computers.

          These policies were soon rescinded when governments understood that the Internet offers its services to all users without differentiating between the governmental and the dissident, the state officer and the human rights activist, the religious and the atheist, black and white, man and woman.

          A new phase began when Arab governments began to crack down on Internet users. A game of cat and mouse developed. The cats were the Arab governments, who stalked those citizens who used the Internet to break the prevailing values of the religious, cultural, and political establishment. The mice were all those who chose to swim against the governmental stream.

    The Internet in Religious Dress
           Starting from a few years ago, observers have noticed a growing religious trend in Arabic web pages: The majority of Arabic language web pages are either about Islam, as interpreted by those responsible for the websites, or are calling for the spread of Islam. Most of these websites come from the Arab Gulf area. This is due to the high standard of living in this part of the Arab region, which has enabled citizens to better take advantage of technological progress and the digital revolution.

           The majority of Islamic web pages all call for the adoption of the extremist Sunni interpretation that has spread widely in the Arab Gulf area and extended to reach other Arab states, non-Arab Islamic states like Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as Muslims living in Europe and North America.

           Few who read statistics concerning Arabic content on the Internet fail to notice the high proportion of these Islamic web pages amongst the total. One estimate says that Islamic web pages comprise 65% of the total number of Arabic websites on the Internet. (1) Though this estimation is exaggerated, it does indicate the exceedingly large number of web pages with Islamic content.

            In spite of the fact that many of these Islamic web pages preach religious hatred against non-Muslims and even against other Islamic groups, they have managed to slip past the bans and the filters put in place by Arab states. Many Arab governments practice selective censorship; that they permit the continued existence of these Islamic sites is less a result of a respect for the freedom of expression than it is a reflection of their satisfaction with the content of these websites.

           As the number of Internet users and the Arabic web sites have grown, this phenomena has decreased somewhat but not completely Many of the Islamic websites have adopted a calmer tone and less inflammatory language in addressing the Other. After the September 11th attacks and the increased monitoring of Islamic Internet sites by the US and Arab governments, the more extremist sites have moderated their rhetoric. Examples of extremist web pages that have displayed a marked moderation of tone include: "the Arabic Arena" or Al-Saha Al-Arabia, Sawalef, Bawabet Al-Islam, Islamoy, Islamna, Shabaket Sahab, Ana Muslim, and Ansar Al-Islam.

    The Weapon of the Opposition
           The Internet provided Arab opposition groups with an alternative to traditional media outlets. Governments keep a close eye on all media, doing their utmost to allow no news, articles, or comments expressing political dissidence or criticism to be published. In case such material does manage to be published, there is always more room in Arab prisons for journalists and democracy activists.

           With increasing governmental censorship of expression came a coinciding growth in the number of oppositional web pages. Many of these opposition groups, finding no space for activities within their own countries, operate from exile, using all those facilities located abroad to mobilize supporters and expose the practices of their governments. The Internet is among the most valuable tools available to these activists.

           The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information has observed the websites of these oppositional groups, including the sites of those leftist and Islamic groups that opposed the Iraqi state even before the American occupation. Their web sites are based in several countries including Sweden, England, Germany and Denmark. The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information has also monitored several web sites representing Saudi and Libyan oppositional groups. In these two countries, which were late in their exposure to the Internet, oppositional groups have created websites expressing their opposition to government practices; through both these websites and their willingness to cross the line in expressing their political opinions, these organizations have gained the support of the public.

           This same pattern has been repeated, albeit with some differences, in other Arab states like Tunisia, Syria, Sudan and Bahrain. Even Egypt, a state known for allowing its citizens a relatively large space of freedom, has inspired the appearance of opposition websites abroad that denounce the persecution and discrimination of Copts living in Egypt. Several websites have recently been created to protest the possibility of an inherited presidency in Egypt. (2)

           Though these web sites are not more than a few dozen in number, they still compare favorably with international websites. They attract large numbers of visitors and use email lists to distribute both new content and advice on how to bypass governmental bans. The popularity of these websites leads Arab governments to double their banning efforts even as they continue repeat their claim that they ban only pornographic websites and websites that transgress public morality.
    Arab Homosexuals Declare Existence
           Homosexuals might be the only social group in the Arab World that was completely unable to declare publicly its existence until the appearance of the Internet. To declare yourself leftist, Islamist, Shiite or Nasserist means to expose yourself to some security, cultural or religious problems; to declare yourself homosexual means exposing yourself to every single one of these problems.

           Homosexuals exist in the Arab world. The Internet made it possible for them to declare their existence. Arab homosexuals use several different web pages to express themselves, their ideas and their burdens, and to increase society's knowledge about them.

           The web site of the Association of Arab Gays and Lesbians "glas.org" could be considered the oldest and the most famous website of Arab homosexuals. Its appearance inspired the creation of several other websites addressing Arab homosexuals and led some foreign websites to allocate sections in their pages for issues concerning Arab homosexuals.

           The number of homosexual web sites increased after a string of government crack-down campaigns. More regionally specific homosexual websites started to appear, such as the Egypt Gays web site, Arab Gays website, Lebanon Gays website, and Al-Fataha Gays website. Even in Saudi Arabia, known as an extremely conservative state, homosexuals created a web site, named The Saudi Gay. Those responsible for the creation of this website provided their visitors with advice on how to protect themselves, such as:
        1. Do not use your real name.
        2. Use a secret and confidential e-mail address.
        3. If some one offers to meet you, be careful.
        4. Do not give you home address to anyone
        5. Do not give your phone number to anyone (3)
      Despite the bans that the majority of Arab states have placed on these websites, they remain popular and are visited regularly. An attractive factor about these websites is that they publish news about the oppression of minority groups, like the police crackdown on the homosexuals in Egypt.
    ------------------------------
    Footnotes
    1- Islamna website, accessed on 04/07/01, http://www.ourislam.net
    2- The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information knows of more than 34 websites of opposing parties and groups based outside their home countries but prefers not to mention their names or their websites so as to protect them from government bans.
    3- Elaph Electronic newspaper, accessed on 13/01/03






    In April 2004, it was estimated that the number of Internet users in the U.A.E was 1.25 million, 31% of the population. This statistic places the Emirates amongst the most advanced nations in Internet use not only amongst Arab states but internationally as well. (1)

        In its assessment of national e-government programs, the United Nations gave the Emirates an e-government index of 2.17, ranking it number 1 amongst Arab states and number 21 in the world. The U.A.E. is included amongst those states with "High E-Government Capacity."

        This high rank does not necessarily reflect the real situation of the Internet in the Emirates. Internet users suffer from high prices for connection services. Thousands of users in the Emirates have complained about these high prices. In addition, these users have launched a campaign to boycott the Internet and have distributed messages via e-mail calling upon all U.A.E. users to boycott the Internet till the government responds to their demand and decreases the price of the ordinary line and the comprehensive service (which includes the cell phone and the land line).

        Mohamed Al-Fahim, the vice president and executive director of the marketing sector at Etisalat (the Emirates Telecommunication Corporation), denounced the boycott and refused to respond to the request for clarification submitted to him by the Emirati newspaper Al Ittihad concerning the aforementioned campaign. Fahim took no steps to examine the reasons for the boycott.

    Sheikh Abdullah Ben Zaied Al Nahian, the Minister of Culture and Media, agreed with the thousands of users and called for a decrease in the price of the Internet connection service. He believes that that the fees of the Internet connection in the Emirates is high when compared with the world average; there are others, however, who claim that the fees are considerably lower (3).

    The Censorship Debate
      The issue of censorship in the U.A.E is the subject of great debate. The Emirati Minister of Transportation, Ahmed Hameed Al-Taier, stated to the newspaper Al-Bayan that "the Proxy Filtering System was the main reason behind the spread of the Internet in the country. Many people allowed access to the Internet inside their homes upon the condition that there be some sort of censorship to protect their families from websites offensive to their morality." At the same time he asserted that, "The Emirates, in comparison to many other states, is not considered restrictive. Even the most developed countries impose censorship on the Internet for several reasons other than those of morality." (4) In contradiction to the above statements, the Minister of Culture and Media Ben Nahian called for absolute freedom of the Internet and for the cancellation of the Proxy Filtering System. He said that the government should not impose censorship on individuals and that the Emirates Company for Internet and Multimedia, the state's only ISP, should not prevent access to certain websites. He added that Internet censorship should be optional and that the government should trust the judgment and intentions of its citizens. (5)

      An Emirati writer reported to the Elaph website that blocking online information is primitive and uncivilized and that the age of hiding information and of government controlled media and information was a thing of the past.

      In an article published in the Qatari newspaper Al-Raya, Abdullah Al-Amady argued that people have the means to access information even if it is banned by the government. Thus, to ban information merely decreases the government's credibility in the eyes of its people. Al Amady also wrote that "no company has the right to prevent users from logging on to certain websites, as the users are paying for this service and the agreement between the user and the ISP does not entitle the company to play the role of the users' guardian." He also added that banning websites and monitoring information do not respect users' safeguarded legal rights to knowledge and to the access of information. (6)

    ------------------------------
    Footnotes
    1- Translated Internet news. Accessed on 6 May 2004-05-17
    http://www.ameinfo.com/arabic/Detailed/20220.html
    2- Good news 4me. Information and Technology gateway. Accessed on 28 March 2004.
    http://www.gn4me.com/etesalat/article.jsp?art_id=5942
    3- Al-Ettehad website, 31 December 2003, Accessed on 22 March 2004
    http://www.alittihad.co.ae/search.details.asp?M=1&ArticleID=81863
    4- Al-Bayan website, 20 October 2002, Accessed on 5 May 2004.
    http://www.albayan.co.ae/albayan/2002/10/20/ola/3.htm
    5- Al-Bayan website, 13 October 2002, visited on 17 August 2003
    http://www.albayan.co.ae/albayan/2002/10/13/ola/2.htm
    6- Elaph website, 20 May 2002.





         It was estimated in 2003 that in every 1000 Jordanians there were 19 Internet users. (1) Till 2001, Jordan had 3.28 computers for every 100 people, placing Jordan fifth in the number of computers per person amongst Arab Nations after the Emirates, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Oman. (2) Jordan is attempting to overcome its computer shortage through the governmental universities network project. This is part of a larger educational network project that aims to connect more than 1.5 million students by 2006 to a wider information and research network. Assuming that Jordan's population will be 7 million in 2006, this project will increase the number of the Internet and computer users to 210 for every 1000 people. (3)

         Jordan has been connected the Internet since 1996. Since then, a contradiction has developed between the government's rhetoric and practical reality.

         Though the government professes great zeal for teaching information science, providing schools with computers, and exporting technical equipment (which comprises 8% of the Jordan's total industrial exports), connectivity prices in Jordan remain high. (4) These prices, high in comparison with those in developed countries, practically render the Internet unreachable for most Jordanians. The average Internet user uses the Internet between 40 and 50 hours per month; the total cost for this ranges from 15 to 20 dinars, a prohibitive amount given Jordanians' economic condition. Internet use in Jordan is available only to those who can afford it. (5)

         According to information provided by the Arab Club for Media and Information Technologies, the number of Internet users in Jordan is about half a million people of whom half are female. (6) This is considered a large number of internet users when compared with other Arab states, with the exception of the states of the Cooperation Council of the Gulf States, but with reform of the pricing structures the number of Jordanians with access to the Internet could be far larger.

          Jordan intends to include the Internet in an upcoming law regulating audio and visual broadcasting. In accordance to this draft law, a student posting a poem or song on the Internet without first receiving permission would be considered a criminal. Such a law would stifle the creativity of both Jordanian students and the larger society.

          Recently, the Jordanian authorities banned the Arab Times website. The manager of the site stated, "we have been told that the Jordanian Prime Minister, Ali Abu Ragheb, is the one who decided to block the website and to prevent Jordanian users from logging onto it. We also have been told that Abou Ragheb's decision came after the Arab Times published open letters from Togan Faisal to the Prime Minister and some other Jordanian ministers and officials." (7)

         On the other hand, the Jordanian government has approved decisions that will systematize the activities of net cafes and centers. These decisions will help create encouraging conditions for investment in the information realm and allow people over 13 to enter a net café without family permission. Previously, this age was 16. The new decisions also ease the regulations concerning location and size that net cafes have to meet. (8)

          Despite the obvious contradiction in its communication sector, Jordan can be included amongst the more promising states in the Arab world as well as an exception from and an example to the other states.



    ------------------------------
    Footnotes
    1- Al-Rai, 11/04/04, accessed on 06/05/04
    http://www.alrai.batelco.jo/11-04-2004/finance/04-2004/Article-20040410-d5f28bb5-c000-00a8-01a0-b94dcdd0b8cb/story.html
    2- Rahad Moustafa Awad, "Information in the Arab World, Reality," Arab Magazine for Information and Science, 1 June 2003.
    3- Ibid.,
    4- Al-Rai. 02/03/04, accessed on 06/05/04.
    http://www.alrai.batelco.jo/02-03-2004/finance/03-2004/Article-20040301-08509fbc-c000-00a8-0125-d92c975c8f17/story.html
    5- Arab Club for Media and Information Technologies websites, 13/11/2002, accessed on 05/04/04
    http://www.ac4mit.org/_jordan.asp?FileName=20021113180418
    6- Daoud Kuttab website, 20/01/04, accessed on 06/05/04
    http://www.daoudkuttab.com/arabic/jan2004/20.htm
    7- Arab Times, accessed on 21/03/04
    http://www.arabtimes.com/togan/T8.htm
    8- On Line Computer Magazine, 01/02/02






         Though many Saudi citizens turn to Bahrain in an attempt to bypass the strict Internet censorship laws they face in their own country, Bahrain does not offer Internet users unconditional freedom. The freedom Bahrain offers is a limited one that allows access to only websites that avoid mentioning the situation in Bahrain itself.

         The Bahraini Minister of Media, Nabil Jacob Al-Hamr, has admitted that the government bans and blocks access to those web pages it finds to its dissatisfaction. In response to this censorship, Bahraini citizens demonstrated in front of the Bahraini Communications Company (Betelco)-which has a monopoly over Internet connection service provision in Bahrain-to express their opposition to Internet censorship. According to the B.B.C., the demonstrators demanded that the Communications Company stop banning and disabling websites the government claims create turmoil. Some demonstrators stated that the disabling of websites is a gross violation of freedom of expression and one that is especially glaring given King Hamad Ben Issa Al Khalifa's declaration of the start of democratic reforms.

         Amongst the demonstrators' demands was the resignation of the Minister of Media Jacob Al-Hamra, who justified censorship by saying that "authorities only disable the websites that contain offensive content." (1)

          Like several other Arab governments, the Bahraini government justifies Internet bans upon the pretext that the government is the defender of morality and by claiming that certain websites are responsible for creating domestic turmoil.

         The bans that the government has placed upon the websites of its political opposition, however, demonstrate the government's intolerance of criticism directed towards it and reveal that the government's stated aim of preventing turmoil through censorship is nothing but a thin justification for its violation of the freedom of expression and the free dissemination of information. The Minister of Media has argued that the government has banned only four websites and has assured his critics that he and his ministry will reconsider their decision if those responsible for these websites reconsider the content. The authorities issued orders to Betelco Company, which provides the Internet services, to ban the following four websites: Ahrar Al-Bahrain ("Liberals of Bahrain"), Bahrain online, Montadayat Al-Bahrian ("Bahrain's Forums") and the well-known A.O.L website. (2)

          The Bahrain Online website is considered to be the most active website in Bahrain. It was banned several times before because it contained vibrant discussions about the social and political situation in Bahrain and had published press releases and reports issued by Bahraini political and human rights institutions. It also provided a forum for its visitors to express and exchange opinions, news, and information.

          On April 7, 2004-the date when the Bahraini government banned the website-the website managers sent a letter of inquiry to the Betelco Company. The response sent from Betelco Company to the website manager stated merely that the Company had received an order from the Ministry of Interior and a decree to ban the website.

          The website managers were surprised at this reply, as they had not been contacted by any administrative or judicial body. Nor had they been officially informed of the decision to ban the website or given the reasons behind the ban. (3)

          The Bahrain Center for Human Rights thinks that the main reason for the ban is the content of the website, which including opinions opposing the government that the government does not allow to be published in other forms of media.

         Another reason for the ban might be the campaign launched by the government against four Bahraini oppositional political associations. These political associations were calling for constitutional reforms and collecting signatures for a petition demanding these reforms. The Minister of Labor threatened these four associations and attempted to stop their campaign. The Bahraini Center for Human Rights warned that the website ban might be a part of a larger, systematic campaign launched by the government to limit the activities of its opposition amongst both human rights and political activists; it is believed that this escalating campaign will lead to further restrictions of public liberty. (4)

          Since Bahraini citizens first gained access to the Internet in 1995 they have depended heavily upon it as their main platform of expression because the government exercises control over all other audio, the visual, and the print forms of media.

          Galal Olwy is considered to be the first victim of the illegal Internet censorship in Bahrain. He was arrested in March 1997 on the basis of Bahraini government allegations that he had sent information through the Internet to "the Bahrain Liberal Movement." The government detained Olwy on this charge for about 18 months. (5)

          In early May 2004, an official with the Bahrain Communications Company (Betelco) stated that the number of the Internet users in Bahrain is more that 100,000 subscribers (6), which is considered a huge number for a state in which the population is not more than 730,000 people.



    ------------------------------
    Footnotes
    1- BBC, 5 May 2002, accessed on 9 November
    2002,http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/arabic/middle_east_news/newsid_1969000/1969668.stm
    2- BBC., 26 March 2002, accessed on 30 July 2003
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/arabic/news/newsid_1895000/1895014.stm
    3- A message from the Bahrain Center for Human Rights dated 11 April 2004
    4- Ibid.,
    5- "The Annual Report of The Human Rights Watch For the Year 1999,"
    http://www.hrw.org/arabic/reports/wr99/bahrain.htm
    6- Bahrain News Agency, 4 May 2004, Accessed 8 May 2004
    http://bna.bh/?ID=26963






         The man appointed to organize the World Summit on the Information Society that Tunisia will host in November 2005 is a Tunisian former secret policeman named Habib Ammar. He is well known by national and international human rights organizations for his use of torture. Tunisia's choice of organizer clearly reflects the manner in which the Internet is managed in Tunisia as well as the Tunisian authorities' vision of the Internet.

          Ammar was the chief of the National Guard between 1984 and 1987, then the Minister of Interior in 1988. Despite then notoriety he gained for his use of torture against Tunisian detainees, he was appointed as chairman of the preparatory committee of the aforementioned Summit. During his visit to Switzerland in September 2003, two human rights organizations filed a complaint against him based on the UN International Convention against Torture which obligates Switzerland, as a state party, to apprehend perpetrators of torture in the case that they be within Switzerland's jurisprudence.

          Ammar was not arrested in Switzerland. Not because he was innocent or because the charges brought against him were not serious but because he, as a representative of a state member in the meetings of the World Summit, enjoys immunity according to the agreement made between the Switzerland government and the International Union of Technology (UIT).1

          The Internet in Tunis dates back to 1991. However, while Tunis was the first Arab state with exposure to the Internet, the majority Tunisians would gain access to the Internet long after that date.

          A Tunisian statistical report, published on Middle East Online in November 2003, shows the number of Internet users in Tunis to be 550,000 people. The report states, "The number of the 'publinet' net cafes has reached 300, located all over Tunisia. There are now 12 ISPs from public and private sectors."2

          Till 1997-when there were an estimated 1200 subscribers-the number of Internet subscribers in Tunis was growing unhurriedly. In October 1997 the number of subscribers reached 4000; in November 1997, 11,000. One can estimate from these numbers that the monthly growth rate of the Internet subscribers in Tunis to be 8.40%3.

          In a promising statement that opened the Geneva Information Summit held in December 2003, the Tunisian president Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali affirmed the significance of technological transformations in developing the information society. He went on to state that amongst the myriad ramifications of such technological transformation would be the establishment of a comprehensive and integrated concept of human rights which, in turn, would help establish freedom of expression, states' autonomy, and people's right to self-determination.4

          The practical reality in Tunis is completely different from these statements. Tunisian Internet users do not have a variety of choices in the web sites they visit. As Human Rights Watch reports, "Tunis has a group of Internet legislations which are considered to be the region's most detailed ones. Many of them were designed to insure that no criticism or free opinion could pass from the same oppressive laws imposed on the other mediums. The Internet Decree, issued in 1997, stipulates that 'Each ISP must submit, on a monthly basis, a list of its Internet subscribers to the "public operator" (the state-run ATI) (article 8, paragraph 5); if the ISP closes down or stops providing services, it must "without delay" turn over to the "public operator" a complete set of its archives ("l'ensemble des supports d'archivage") as well as the means to read it (article 9, paragraph 7).' It also imposes a legal responsibility on the ISPs for the content of the web sites they host. The internet decree also bars encryption without prior approval from the authorities."5

          When Zine Al-Abidine's government, already known for its acute restriction of freedom of expression, appoints a former policeman as chief of the preparatory committee of the second phase of the Information Society Summit, and when the two largest ISPs in Tunisia are controlled by persons close to the Tunisian president, it is no surprise that the "publinet" net cafes common in many Tunisian cities are not permitted to allow their customers to log on websites considered offensive to the government. These websites were described by Al Hayat as rebel websites because they are intensively monitored by security forces.7

    Tunisian censorship is not limited to rebel websites such as "Qos Al Karama," a website created by the Tunisian activist Galal Al Zoghlamy. The government goes even further, banning several international web sites such as the well known "Hotmail" website, many Palestinian websites, Egyptian websites (like Masrawy.com), human rights websites, and the Donia Al-Watan newspaper's website. These websites are not interested specifically in the Tunisian situation; the banning of these websites demonstrates the intensity of censorship in Tunisia.

          When discussing the violations committed by the authorities against Tunisian lawyers, Mohammad Gabbor, the secretary-general of the Tunisian lawyers union, stated, "Lawyers have been exposed to many violations including sexual violations. The lawyers are frequently wiretapped and sometimes their lines are disconnected completely. The Ministry if Interior may change the direction of some fax lines to prevent transmission. Many web sites are blocked as well." (8) Zohair al Yehiawy: The first (but not last) prisoner of the Internet
            On the 20th of June 2002, a Tunisian court sentenced the journalist Zohair Ben Said al Yehiawy, founder and editor-in-chief of the news website TUNeZINE, to two years and four months in prison. He had been charged of "disseminating false news" and "fraudulent use of a means of communication." He was even charged of theft.


            Yehiawy was the first to distribute an open letter to the Tunisian president, written by Mokhtar Al Yehiawy, Zohair's uncle and a judge, criticizing the independence of the Tunisian judicial system. This letter was the main reason behind the expulsion of Judge Yehiawy from his position in 2001.


           Tunisian authorities have been using numerous illegal tools to monitor and harass political dissidents and human rights activists. Yet Yehiawy's trial was the first of its kind, as it was the first time that the Tunisian judiciary was faced with a Tunisian cyber-dissident whose crime was to criticize the regime on the Internet.

            The TUNeZINE website was known for its rigorous criticism of the police practices in Tunis. It contained articles censuring the state's political situations written by authors who employed pseudonyms. Once Yehiawy posted a poll on the website asking readers, "Do you consider Tunisia to be a republic, a kingdom, a zoo, or a prison?" 9


           In its press release issued on July 16th 2003, Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Menrad said, "we condemn the hard line taken by the Tunisian judiciary with this cyber dissident, whose only crime is to have dared to denounce President Ben Ali's totalitarian regime."10 The release of Yehiawy in November 2003 was an attempt on the part of the Tunisian government to improve the state's image a month before 5+5 Summit was held in December 2003. Yehiawy was released on the condition that he not repeat the same actions that led him to jail, a condition that amounts to political censorship.
    Visit a web site. Get behind bars
            Banning websites offensive to authorities and detaining those who create these sites are normal strategies used in the Arab region and China. But to detain Internet users for merely visiting a website is a strategy unique to Tunisia.

            On May 14th 2003, about 200 pioneering Tunisian political and human rights activists signed a petition calling on Tunisian authorities, including President Ben Ali, "to stop violating the individual and collective rights of expression.
      " The petition mentioned Maher Al Asmany, a 23 year old who had been tortured to death on the 27th of April 2003 inside the police center.11 The petition read, "During the last months, 40 young Tunisian men have been jailed, sentenced to long terms and tortured, just for logging on to some websites claimed by authorities to be terrorist web sites." The petition encouraged human rights activists and all civil society organizations to make the year 2003 a year for imposing freedom of expression in Tunisia.

            The suffering of Tunisian net users led Reporters without Borders to issue a press release on 03/07/2003 describing the UN decision to hold the 2005 World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis as a joke, stating that "anyone knowing a little about the situation in Tunisia with the Internet and press freedom generally might be able to laugh about it"12.




    ------------------------------
    Footnotes
    1. Swiss Info web site. 14/09/2003. Accessed on 02/02/2004.
    http://www.swissinfo.org/sar/swissinfo.html?siteSect=2105&sid=4270955
    2. Middle East Online web site. 05/11/2003. Accessed on 04/01/2004
    http://www.middle-east- online.com/technology/?id=19142
    3. "Human Capital in the Information Society in Arab States," Arab Magazine for Sciences and Information, 24.
    4. Middle East Online web site. 10/12/2003. Visited on 02/05/2004
    http://www.middle-east- online.com/technology/?id=20000
    5. "The Internet in Middle East and North Africa, Free Expression and Censorship. A report by Human Rights Watch," 1999
    http://www.hrw.org/advocacy/internet/mena/index.htm
    6. BBC on Friday. 06/092002. Accessed on 04/01/04
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/arabic/middle_east_news/newsid_2240000/2240523.stm
    7. Al Hayat. 9 September 2002
    8. Swiss Info website. 10 December 2003. Visited on 12 February 2004.
    http://www.swissinfo.org/sar/swissinfo.html?siteSect=2105&sid=4531154
    9. Elaph electronic newspaper. 10 June 2003.
    10. Press Release, Reporters Without Borders. 16 July 2003. Accessed on 17 January 2004.
    11. Islam-Online.net. 14 May 2003. Accessed on 9 August 2003.
    http://www.islam-online.net/Arabic/news/2003- 05/14/article10.shtml
    12. BBC on Friday. 6 September 2003. Visited on 4 January 2004.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/arabic/middle_east_news/newsid_2240000/2240523.stm







      You put yourself at risk if you try to log onto a banned website in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government can track whoever logs onto banned websites, whatever kind they might be: political, sexual, religious, or even human rights. And you know what the result of this is!

    --E-mail from Mohammad Abdel Rahman, 29 year old researcher, Riyadh- Saudi Arabia, May 20, 2002.


         In 1999 Saudi Arabia exposed itself to the Internet. In September 1999, the number of the Saudi Internet subscribers reached 45,000, making the number of users 135,000 if each subscription is used by 3 users. (1)

         The Saudi government encourages Internet use because it believes that increased Internet use will aid national development projects. To increase access and use of the Internet, the government has developed the country's communication infrastructure and increased the geographic coverage of Internet services. These initiatives have been successful: In April 2004, there were 2 million Internet users in Saudi Arabia, a number that is expected to increase to 5.4 million by 2005.

          About 40% of the information and communication equipment and programs imported to the Arab region go directly to the Saudi market. The Saudi information market's annual increase is about 15%, making it the largest Arab market in terms of demand. (4)

          However, it seems that when the Saudi government attempts to increase the number of Internet users, it is in fact attempting to increase a certain type of user-a user who does not visit websites considered offensive to the authorities like political, religious, sexual or human rights websites or websites that censure the situation in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The government also does not allow access to those Internet forums that allow their visitors a space of freedom not enjoyed by any other forms of media in Saudi. Censorship in Saudi Arabia, after all, is not limited to the Internet but reaches all other media as well.

          The Saudi government made the Riyadh-based "King Abdel Aziz City for Science and Technology" (KACST) the sole institution responsible for Internet provision. The "City" provides several ISPs, through which it extends its control by using techniques and equipment designed especially for it by a British company. This equipment filters Internet content, effectively cutting off the websites the government wants to ban from its audience.

          The number of banned websites in Saudi Arabia reached 200,000 in August 2001, a year and a half after Internet service started in the Kingdom. This means that, on average, 250 websites were banned per day (5). The number was doubled over the next three years, and in 2004 400,000 web pages were banned. The Kingdom's censorship of 400,000 web pages and its use of one of the Internet's largest filtering systems on the pretext of protecting Islamic values and culture earned Saudi Arabia the Reporters without Borders' satirical "First Prize for Censorship" in March 2004 (6).

    Prevailing Values Means Increasing Profits
           Religion and politics do not constitute the only reasons for the banning and blocking of Internet websites in Saudi Arabia. There are commercial reasons as well. Censorship often means profits for the government. One example is the government's decision to ban the websites of phone line companies in its attempt to grant the Saudi Communications Company a monopoly over telephone connections in the country (7). In an interview with Al-Hayat newspaper, the chairman of the First Net Company, Abdallah Al-Debekhy, pointed to that fact that the Saudi Communications Company and King Abdel Aziz City for Sciences and Technology together control more than 75% of the total sum paid for Internet use in Saudi Arabia, a sum estimated to be RS 4.2 million. (8)

           Some Saudi Internet users have resorted to using proxy servers that can bypass governmental filters to log on to banned websites in Saudi Arabia. Other users connect to the Internet through ISPs in other countries-a far more expensive method of connection. In response, the Saudi government resorted to using several tactics that would be impermissible in a state that respected its citizens' freedom of expression and right to circulate information.

           Saudi security forces began to require net cafés to record the names of their customers, the number of their IDs, the time they arrived, and the time they left. This information must remain with the net café for a period of more than six months and must be delivered to state security upon request. (9) Additional regulations forbid a person under the age of 18 from entering a net café unless accompanied by a guardian.

           The Saudi government has censored the flow of on-line information, disrespected citizens' rights to safely and freely surf the net, and banned international websites like Yahoo, American Online, and the well-known Arab Tawy Forum. The government has even banned medical websites on the grounds that they use words like "chest" or "breasts" even though these words were mentioned in explicitly medical contexts. This heavy censorship has led to increased criticism of the Saudi government by political and human rights activists. It has also resulted in the creation and distribution of alternate web addresses (known as mirror sites) for banned sites. These alternative addresses are publicized through email. Mirror sites have grown quickly, thanks to the free hosting services provided by well known companies like Free Services, Geocities, and Tripod.
           There are nine political websites that have been created from outside Saudi Arabia to oppose the Saudi government; some of these have created five mirror sites each. (10)
    Jihad through Piracy
           Though Saudi Arabia claims to ban websites under the pretext of protecting Muslim values, in reality such bans are an attempt by the government to protect the image it has cultivated to best suit its political stance.

           The Saudi government has blocked several Shi'a websites and Islamic websites that offer interpretations differing from the official Wahhabi line. However, the government overlooks the many religious extremist websites calling for religious hatred and allows access to forums like Arab Arena (Al-Saha Al-Arabia), Al-Hoda, Faisal Annour and others. The Saudi government also overlooks the activities of self-declared "hacking" websites that disrupt atheist and secular websites in an attempt to stop what they perceive as the atheist or Shi'a invasion. (11)
    Banning upon Suspicion
            The premises of the central Internet censorship department are in secure offices located on the first floor of the KACST. There are no experts or specialists in censorship in this department. The majority of the employees are technicians and programmers, some of whom are from Finland, whose job is to set up computer programs that filter and block pornographic web pages and prevent them from entering the Internet in Saudi Arabia (12).

           A study of Saudi censorship of websites conducted by Jonathan Zetran and Benjamin Adelman of Harvard University attempted to assess how comprehensive websites banning policies are. The study demonstrated that at least 246 websites classified by the Yahoo engine as religious websites were banned by the Saudi censors. Amongst religious websites censored were 67 Christian websites, 45 Muslim websites, 22 idolatrous websites, 20 Jewish websites and 12 Hindu websites. The study also showed that the government banned 76 web pages classified by Yahoo as humor pages, 60 web pages about music, 34 about film, and 13 about homosexuality. The study mentioned that, of 795 pornographic websites found when using a popular search engine, only 86% were banned in Saudi Arabia.

           The study's authors claim that a large amount of content is blocked for no other reason than that of the sheer ease of banning. (13) As mentioned above, there are no experts specializing in censorship in the central Saudi Internet censorship department; those who work in the department are far better trained to block web pages than to assess their content.

           An example of this mentality can be seen in the ban placed on the distinguished Jordanian human rights website Amman which contains material defending women's rights. As the manager of Amman reported, the Saudi government did not submit a clear, convincing justification for the ban. (14) Thus, many different explanations could exist. For instance, the website might have been banned because it was publishing materials related to women's rights in general and Saudi women in particular.

           In an article in the newspaper Al-Watan on February 28, 2003, the writer Soliman Al-Aqely wrote "the increase in website banning has become shameful for the state. The government's sensitivity to any and every website posting material about Saudi Arabian issues is harming the nation's reputation and, as well, its future." (15)




    ------------------------------
    Footnotes
    1- Al Bayan newspaper, 5 September 19999
    2- Al-Jazeera Channel. Economic Announcement. Sat., 17 April 2004, at 12:40 A.M
    3- Al Hayat newspaper, 30 October 2003
    4- Dr. Ihsan Ali Bo Holeqa, Al Hayat newspaper, issue No 14947, 29 February 2004.
    5- Al Haramen website, from Al-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper. 29 March 2001. accessed on 21 March 2004.
    6- Press release, Reporters Without Borders, 26/03/2004 http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=9661
    7- Al-Quds Al-Araby newspaper, 02/05/2001
    8- Al-Hayat, issue No 14794, 25/09/2003
    9- Al-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper, 05/07/2003
    10- The Committee for the Defense of Legitimate Rights and Reform Movement
    11- "Amgad4islam.8m.net" hackers website, accessed on 12/02/2001. The web site has posted a list of cultural and Shiite websites that have been hacked upon a Fatwa, a pronouncement of a sheikh authorizing the hacking of secular web pages calling for equality between men and women and the hacking of Shiite websites.
    12- The BBC news radio station's website on 10 May 2002. Accessed on 22/07/03
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/arabic/news/newsid_742000/742872.stm
    13- Good news for me website. Visited on 21/03/04
    http://www.gn4me.com/etesalat/article.jsp?art_id=6524
    14- E-mail from the web site manager, received on 8/05/03
    15- Yahoo website on 21/03/04





      The Internet in our country is bland and tasteless. All other Arab countries ban some websites, but in our country they ban all websites and leave some.
    --A comment made by Maher, a Syrian citizen, on the policy of banning the websites, in a Syrian forum. (1)

         Up until two years ago, the Syrian government had been successful in limiting Internet use in its country and in depriving Syrians of their right to Internet access. The government's tools were bans imposed on many websites and e-mail service providers, the arrest and conviction of those who attempted to bypass these bans and who dared criticize the government, and the high price of Internet access, which till 2003 was $1 per hour in a country where the per capita income is only $110 a month.

         As reported by Al-Hayat, some experts believe that the main problem in Syrian society is that large sections within it are unaccustomed to computer use. Statistics reveal that only 23% of the Syrian population (which is estimated to be 19 million people) are computer literate. There are at most 300,000 PCs in Syria, the majority of which are owned by governmental institutions. (2)

         Syria has only two ISPs: the General Telecommunications Establishment and the Syrian Information Society. Each controls internet subscription through a local proxy.

    The Black List
           Ever since Syrians gained access to the Internet they have been complaining about the bans the government places on web pages. These citizens believe that the bans are in clear contradiction with the spirit of the current age and disrupt the free flow of information. The Syrian government maintains a constantly growing Internet "black list" of banned web pages. Many of the sites on this black list are pages that contain news related to Syrian affairs.

           An official with the General Telecommunications Establishment told Islam Online that, upon Syria's first contact with the Internet, the government drafted several basic rules managing Internet usage. It was decided that two general categories of websites should be banned. The first is all websites with pornographic content. The second category is that of the "hostile websites." The government provides no specifics about this second category, it includes pro-Israeli websites, Islamic websites, and web pages with articles about Syrian news and issues. (3)
      Soon after it published this article, the Islam Online website itself was banned in Syria!
    A Long List of Bans
           On March 2004, the Syrian authorities blocked access to two Kurdish-language news websites based in Germany, www.amude.com and www.qamislo.com, both of which provided news, pictures, and video clips of demonstrations by the Syrian Kurdish minority.(4) The list of the banned web sites also includes the daily electronic newspaper Elaph, the Kurdish website www.yakiti.de, Akhbar Al-Sharq (News of the East), the web site of the Arab Commission for Human Rights, and hundreds of others. It is estimated that, in addition to the banned pornographic web pages, there are 137 blocked web sites.
    All For Syria
            Ayman Abdul Nour refuses to be described either as a dissident or as an ally of the authorities. He prefers to be considered as belonging to the one Syria shared by all. He does not want to establish an oppositional movement but rather a social movement that calls on the regime to develop its tools in light of the international information and media revolution.

           In 2003 Ayman created the Kuluna Shorkaa fii Siria "All4Syria.org" web site. In the beginning, the website was modest; it merely posted news and topics related to general Syrian affairs. Ayman would collect submitted material, review and revise it, and post only those articles that dealt with serious topics in a mature style. This material was published in the form of a electronic newsletter distributed to media professionals and intellectuals inside and outside Syria. More than 12,000 copies were distributed through e-mail.

           The recipients of the newsletter received the Syrian government's ban on the website with surprise. They knew that the Syrian Information Society played a role in the enforcement of this ban. Debates about the bans and their logic, or lack thereof, were reawakened. This time, the debate was louder and the opposition to the ban more vehement. Part of the reason for the vehemence of the debates was that Ayman, according to the media, was either in the Ba'ath Ruling Party or, at the very least, close to it. Syrians continue to discuss the ban, its underlying reason, and the possibility to bypass it or to pressure authorities into lifting it. (5)
          According to official statistics, the number of Internet subscribers in Syria is estimated to be 155,000. With at least five users per subscription, the number of users is estimated to be 775,000 in homes and in the net cafes.

          The number of the cafes in Syria is estimated to be more than 500, a relatively high number considering that Internet access in Syria was available to the public only starting in 2002. Many Syrian governmental departments, however, had access to the Internet as early as 1997.

          Some officials in the Syrian government initially refused to provide the Syrian people with Internet access, much in the same way they had previously refused to allow the people to use fax machines. The authorities could arrest or cut the phone connection of any Syrian found using a fax machine without first obtaining permission. These same officials refused the use of cellular phones as well.

         Other Syrian officials, however, encouraged the provision of Internet access to the public. The leader of this latter group was the Syrian president Bashar Al-Asad. It seems, however, that both these groups agree on one thing: the policy of banning websites without empowering a specific governmental body to do so or specifying clear procedures and guidelines by which bans will be chosen and enforced.

    The ban has no logic and no rules.
      There is no logic to Syria's internet censorship. Bans are not limited to political, sexual or religious web pages. On May 10th, 2004, the two websites of the Ilaf company, www.illafsoft.com, and www.illaftrain.com, were banned, raising questions and concern amongst the Syrian Internet community and the managers of the two websites.

         Upon the banning of their websites, the managers wrote: "We apologize to all the visitors from the Arab Republic of Syria for the inability to log on the website through the connection provided by the Syrian Information Society. The Company's commercial website www.illafsoft.com and the website of the training section www.illaftrain.com were both banned on May 10, 2004 for reasons unknown to the Ilaf Company. Ilaf express both its sorrow its opposition to this ban and is waiting for its removal. Ilaf calls upon Syrian citizens to use those tools that will allow them to log on to the two banned websites." (7)

          Syrian users can buy software programs that bypass the bans for one dollar. Those who have accounts through international e-mail service providers, such as Hotmail, Yahoo or Ajeeb, use these software programs to do so. Moreover, any user who has even a little experience using the Internet can employ several different tools to easily bypass the bans; one such method is to use the AltaVista search engine to log on the banned websites.

    Arbitrary Detention and Military Courts
      Dozens of citizens are detained every month by the Syrian government upon the charge of "defamation" even though most of them do not belong to any political group or party. They are detained merely on the basis of reports written about them by state security because they criticized the situation in Syria or some Syrian officials. They are either referred to a military court or are detained without trial for anywhere between three months and three years. They are arrested and detained in police stations, where they are more vulnerable to torture and ill-treatment.
         State security's monitoring of the Internet makes accessing the Internet a gamble for Syrian citizens.

         The detention campaign began with the monitoring of Internet users who e-mailed articles and press reports about Syria's internal situation to one another. This is a topic considered by the security apparatus and the political authorities to be taboo.

         One victim of the detention campaign was Abdel Rahman Shaguri, a young man who was detained on February 23, 2003 after emailing Levant News the newsletter of the banned website www.thisissyria.net. Shaguri was tortured and ill-treated in the Palestine police station before he was transferred to Sidnaya prison.

         Another such victim was Massud Hamid, a 29 year old Kurd who was charged with the crime of disseminating false news over the Internet.

         The Syrian court has postponed the case of the two brothers Mohanad and Haitham Qatesh and the journalist Yehia Al-Ous since the end of 2002. It is still pending trial. Mohanad and Yehia Al-ous were charged with obtaining secret information integral to the safety of the nation. Heitham Qatesh was charged with writing illegal material that put Syria and its citizens in danger and jeopardized the country's relations with foreign powers. In addition, Mohanad and Yehia were charged with the misdemeanor of disseminating false news abroad. Amnesty International reported in its press release that Mohand and Heithem Qatesh and the journalist Yehia had sent articles to an electronic newspaper based in The Emirates.

          The policy of banning websites and detaining citizens for either political reasons or because they are merely practicing their right to freedom of expression over the Internet cannot last. It is a solution resorted to by undemocratic governments and a solution doomed to failure. This solution will only inspire more opposition. By pursuing such policies, the Syrian government has its opposition one more reason to criticize a government that has been ruling under Emergency Law for over 40 years.


    ------------------------------
    Footnotes
    1- a pseudonym of a Syrian citizen answering the question "what do you think on the Internet in Syria?", we did not mention the name of the website in order not cause its ban, 16/02/03
    2- Al-Hayat newspaper, 12/04/04
    3- Islam online website, 17/07/03, visited on 21/03/04
    http://www.islam-online.net/arabic/news/2003-06/17/article10.shtml
    4- Index online.org website, 26/04/04, visited on 03/05/04
    http://www.indexonline.org/indexindex/20040406_syria.shtml
    5- The German Television website, 20/04/04, visited on 26/04/04
    http://www.dwelle.de/arabic/politik/1.71435.1.html
    6- Al-Hayat newspaper, 12/08/03
    7- Ilaf Soft website, 11/04/04
    http://www.illafsoft.com/arabic/index.thtml
    8- Prisoner of conscience in Syria, a report on Sudnaya prison, issued by the Human Rights Association in Syria.
    9- Amnesty International, 21/03/04, visited on 21/03/04
    http://www.amnesty-arabic.org/text/news-services/ns-mde/2004/syria_mde_24_017_2004.htm







         Till the end of 2002, Internet use in Iraq was limited to those who could afford it. In 2002, the number of Internet users amongst Iraq's total population of 24 million people was only 45,000. Many of these users were state officials. The others were those who could afford to pay 2,000 Iraqi dinars (the equivalent of $1) per hour, approximately 20% of the average Iraqi's salary.

    Better Late Than Never
            The Internet in Iraq dates back to 1998, when the government formed The General Company of Internet and Information Services. This company provided Internet access to a people who were almost completely isolated from the world by their country's lack of media and communications ability. Internet access did not actually become available to Iraqis citizens until 2000, and when the government finally made access generally available, it did so in an extremely limited fashion.

            Until the end of 1999, the Iraqi government prohibited the unauthorized use of modems, a piece of equipment required to establish an Internet connection. Due to the sanctions imposed on Iraq and the weakness of the communications network, there were scarce quantities of available personal computers and high prices (about 450 dollars) for the few that were available.

            The Iraqi authorities created a unique system of Internet use. In the 65 Internet centers (the Iraqi name for net cafes) there were no limits to the government's powers of censorship.
      Iraqi users were permitted to access only an extremely limited number of web pages. Users did not have to free Internet e-mail services as the government had blocked access to all the e-mail service providers so as to grant the General Company of Internet and Information Services (GCIIS) a monopoly.
      Saad Hady has stated that "a subscription to these e-mail services was very different from a subscription to those available on the Internet. In order to send or receive an e-mail to or from the outside world, the message had to go through two local channels (Orouk and Woraka) which were supervised by the censorship department. It was not uncommon for a recipient to receive a message dated three days previously because its words had been examined and scrutinized to reveal what they hid and what they showed." (1)

            The Internet users who could afford a computer could obtain a governmental e-mail service for 100,000 Iraqi dinars per year (equal to $50). Or they could pay $750 annually for the direct Internet connection provided only by the GCIIS and have all the options of the service. In the Internet centers, users had to pay 200 dinars for every e-mail sent. Before this email could be sent, it had to be reviewed by an official at the Internet censorship department.
    Wealth, Connections, and Looks: The Features of the Iraqi Internet User
            Before the occupation, Iraqi citizens had to accept many restrictions and conditions in order to use the Internet. As previously mentioned, they had to have the financial means. Moreover, they had to complete and sign an Internet subscription application which stated: "the subscription applicant must report any hostile website seen on the Internet, even if it was seen by chance. The applicants must not copy or print any literature or photos that go against state policy or relate to the regime. Special inspectors teams must be allowed to search the applicant's place of residence to examine any files saved on the applicant's personal computer." (2)

            Visitors to Iraq's Internet centers had to comply with the unjust conditions set upon Internet use. Furthermore, before a visitor could use the Internet center, they had to be interrogated by those running the center about the web pages they intended to surf. When using a computer, visitors had to turn the monitor towards the center's door and were prohibited from deleting the history that records the web pages they accessed. If a visitor wanted to download and save something to a floppy, they had to use a floppy bought from the center itself.

           If visitors were actually allowed to use the Internet after agreeing to these conditions, they typically found themselves presented with either Saddam Hussein's picture (which was on the majority of the permitted web pages) or an large "X," informing them that the web page was banned in Iraq. This was, of course, only if they were allowed to user the Internet: those in charge of the centers could arbitrarily bar visitors from using a connection if they did know the visitor or if they didn't like the way the visitor looked. Authorities could decide that someone had no reason to use the Internet and order them to return home.

            In universities and institutions with Internet centers, those in charge intercepted and carefully reviewed any e-mails sent to students before allowing them to be delivered. They were also responsible for reading e-mails students intend to send before they were sent. This process, which occurred in addition to a similar censorship process in a central governmental department, added to the delay in message arrival. (3)

            Due to the many prohibitions and conditions set in place by the former Iraqi regime, Iraq was ranked 17th or 18th amongst the Arab states in the efficiency of its Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector. The efficiency of the ICT sector is measured by the number of the personal computers, Internet users, land phone lines, and cellular phones in a certain country. (4)
    The Solution: Go North
            Though the former Iraqi regime thrust freedoms of expression and circulation of information into darkness, Iraqi users did have another way to access the Internet. Many turned to the cities of the northern province, Kurdistan, to access the web pages they desired for prices similar to those in Iraq. 10% of visitors to the Internet centers in Kurdistan were from areas under the central Iraqi authority. Iraqi youth visited Kurdistan in groups to use the Internet centers, freely surf the Internet, and contact whomever they liked, free from government monitoring. (5)

            Due to the current chaos and disorder in which Iraqis live, it is too early to state that the occupation has brought about the freedom of Internet use and the absence of censorship. The disorder, the bloody conflict, and the preoccupation of forces in Iraq with the country's reorganization has given many Internet centers an opportunity to thrive and has led to a growth in the number of Internet users. In addition, prices have started to decrease, though they still continue to remain quite close to the previous levels.

            Though Iraq's state of disorder has opened up a space of freedom, it has also produced serious fears. Living conditions continue to deteriorate. Owners of Internet centers close their stores at night out of fear-fear of both the occupying forces and those of the resistance.
    ------------------------------
    Footnotes
    1- Qantara web site, 14/02/02, Acccessed on 28/04/04,
    http://www.qantara.de/webcom/show_article.php/_c-499/_nr-10/_p-1/i.html
    2- Ibid.,
    3- "Internet in Iraq," study by Hameed Al-Hashemy, Iraq Press web site, 13/02/02, accessed on 01/04/04 http://www.iraqpress.org/arabic.asp?fname=iparabic%5c109r.htm
    4- ESCWA press releases for the year 2003, 11/12/03, accessed on 16/03/04
    http://www.escwa.org.lb/arabic/information/press/escwa/2003/dec/11_2.html
    5- Iraqi Research Center, 29/04/04, visited on 01/05/04
    http://www.al-montada.com/irc/m2/2002-04-29/9.htm





         Internet service started in Qatar in 1996, with less than 2,000 subscribers. In 1999 the number of subscribers reached 9,000 and in 2001, 11,000. (1)

          In May 2003, the number of the Internet users, as reported by the executive director of the Qatar Communications Company Q-Tel, was estimated to be near 100,000. 20,000 of them use the ordinary Internet service, 500 of them use the first fast Al-Barq service, and a limited number use the pre-paid card service called Ibhar. (2)

          In April 2004, the number of the Internet users was approximately 115,000, a large number given that the total population of Qatar is 600,000. Qatar in ranked high amongst the Arab states in terms of Internet use.

          The Qatari Telecommunications Company has been granted a 15 year monopoly over Internet service provision. This angers many Qatari citizens, as the company has the ability to freely determine the price of connection. Several Qatari businessmen have declared that they are ready to provide Internet Service in Qatar in competition with the governmental Communication Company. Such competition will most likely result in benefits for Qatari users.

          The Qatari Telecommunications Company explains the high prices of Internet connections as a result of the small size of the Qatari market and the few number of users. The company's general director Hamad Al-Attia stated, "when comparing Qatar with other Gulf states, we have to consider the number of the users, which is about 200,000. When this number increases, the service price will decrease as a result. This is economics." (3)

          In comparison to many Arab states, Qatar provides its citizens with more freedom of Internet use and less censorship. There has been no news of website bans in Qatar besides those bans placed on some pornographic websites.


    ------------------------------
    Footnotes
    1- Al-Bayan website, 05/07/01, accessed on 22/02/04,
    http://www.albayan.co.ae/albayan/2001/06/05/eqt/12.htm
    2- Al-Watan newspaper, 18/05/03, accessed on 22/04/04
    http://www.alwatan-news.com/data/20030518/index.asp?content=local3
    3- Al-Bayan newspaper, 05/07/01, accessed on 22/02/04
    http://www.albayan.co.ae/albayan/2001/06/05/eqt/12.htm





         The Internet in Libya might be considered the only space of freedom available to a people living in a state of oppression and bereft of all public freedoms including the freedom of expression.

          Though Internet service had started in Libya by the end of 1998, access was limited to those who were close to the authorities. Libyan citizens did not gain access to the Internet until early 2000. The rapid growth in the number of the Internet users in Libya since that time indicates the degree to which Libyans had been yearning for a space in which they could freely express themselves and view the outside world from outside the frame provided by governmental controlled media.

         In 1998, the number of Internet users in Libya did not exceed 100 people. By early 2001, after Internet service was extended to the public, the number reached 300,000. By mid-2003, the number was estimated to be 850,000. It is rapidly reaching one million users, an immense number considering that the population in Libya is 6 million people.

    Between the Libyan Government and the Opposition
      The uninterrupted growth in the number of Internet users in Libya resorts to the awareness of both the Libyan government and authorities in one hand, and the Libyan oppositional groups in the other hand of the significance of the Internet, the information circulation and the efficient active communication, as well as, the important role played by the ICT sector in the economic development.
    The Libyan government
           The Libyan government planned to have experiences and efficiencies in the field of the ICT. It prepared itself for ICT by establishing advanced institutes to train technicians and engineers, sending missions and fellowships to Italy, Japan and Britain, and inviting experts from developed countries. Libya has invited 230 experts and sent more than 5,000 students to study ICT in countries with programs of advanced study. Upon completing their studies abroad, these students return to Libya to help improve the governmental sectors and institutions. (1)

           There are 3000 Internet public centers and private net cafes located in Libyan cities. The wide availability of Internet access has helped raise the number of Internet users.

           Mohammad Muammar Al-Qadafi was appointed chairman of the General Company for Post, Wireless and Wire Connections. The fees for the Internet connection were decreased by 50%. The private sector was allowed to invest in the ICT field. Currently, there are seven Internet companies in Libya; last year, there were only two: Libya for Communications and Modern Communications World. In order to best assure the success of the investment in information technology, hundreds of workshops and training courses were held in schools, institutes and universities. The result has been an increase in the Libyan economy by four hundred percent..(2)
    The Opposition
           The spread of Internet service provides Libyan dissidents scattered around the world with the opportunity to contact Libyan citizens and to strengthen their networks in the country. Oppositional Libyan web sites have become the most common type of Libyan website on the Internet and the most well-known websites within Libya. The number of Libyan oppositional websites is even greater than that of foreign-based Saudi oppositional websites. Most of these Libyan groups are based in Europe and receive several advantages from being located outside their native lands, one of which is their contact with advanced technological societies and early exposure to the Internet. Indeed, Libya's "Internet Pioneer" was a dissident, D. Ibrahim Ghonwa; the first Libyan website was called "Libya our nation." (3)

         Oppositional websites, human rights websites, forums, news websites, and even literary websites-all of which are based abroad-soon followed in appearance. According to the groups behind these websites, the Libyan government has appointed one of the closest friends of the Libyan President Moussa Kosa to monitor oppositional websites and attempt to limit their growth.

          Moussa Kosa summoned experts from Russia, Poland and Pakistan to help block these websites. (4) He forced owners of net cafes to place stickers on computers that warn visitors from logging onto websites deemed oppositional. (5)

         The roles played by the Libyan government and its opposition made the electronic situation in Libya different from that in other Arab countries. It is difficult for the Libyan government to roll back the privileges it granted its information society and to do what other Arab governments have done: grant a single company a monopoly over Internet service provision so as to limit the availability of oppositional websites and their impact on Libyan citizens.

          The Libyan government cannot limit the progress made by oppositional and human rights groups, whose savvy use of the Internet has gained them the approval and support of the many Internet users in Libya. This support will allow these groups to take real steps towards improving the human rights situation and the scope of civil liberties in Libya. Time will tell.


    ------------------------------
    Footnotes
    1- Al-Bayan, 22/02/01, accessed on 30/03/04
    http://www.albayan.co.ae/albayan/2001/02/22/eqt/19.htm
    2- Akhbar Libya web site, 28/11/03, accessed on 22/04/04
    http://www.akhbarlibya.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=8818
    3- Al-Haqiqa magazine, published on the Internet. We prefer to not reveal its address so as to prevent it from being blocked.
    4- National Front for Libya Salvation website, accessed on 03/04/04,
    http://www.nfsl-libya.com/NewsComments/2080.htm
    5- Akhbar Libya web site, visited on 17/05/04
    http://akhbar-libya.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=11977





      Net cafes must be monitored. Any activity has good and bad elements. There should be several restrictions such as a central control on material sent through the Internet that could be against Egyptian principles. The Vice Squad in the Ministry of the Interior should play a role in monitoring these net cafes. Rafat Radwan, engineer and chairman of the Information Center in the Cabinet. (1)
    What is declared in the previous statement, had been already done:
      . . . someone came and told me that the police assistant wanted me to go to him at 10 P.M. When I went, I found many people I know who own net cafes. "Do you have licenses?" the police assistant asked us. We answered, "No, but we could apply for licenses, Pasha." He said: "No problem, but I want you to take the visitors' photocopied IDs when they come to use the Internet at your cafes and also to see what web sites they visit on the net." We answered, "O.K." I began to ask visitors to give me a photo copy of their ID, but they refused and left. So I decided not to ask in order not to loose my customers. Mohammad, a Cairo net café owner, 2003 (2)
          The Internet in Egypt dates back to 1993. Egypt was one of the first Arab states to establish itself within the Information Age. Until the end of the 1990s the number of Internet users was limited and did not exceed 400,000 users. (3) In 2001, 1.55% of the Egyptian population had personal PCs. This percentage is the sixth highest amongst Arab States but still considerably lower than the world average of 8.42%.

         For every 1000 people in Egypt, there are .028 computers with access to the Internet, as compared to the world average of 23.27 connected PCs for every 1000 people. (4) When measured against Arab states, Egypt ranks fifth, preceded by the Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, and Saudi Arabia.

          The number of Internet users in Egypt is now estimated to be nearly 3 million. The rapid growth in the number of users is a result of both the Free Internet Initiative taken by the Egyptian government in January 2002 as well as the ability of Egyptian consumers to purchase PCs by installation plan. This dramatic rise in Internet use has occurred in spite of the nearly 50% illiteracy rate in Egypt.

          Some sections of the Egyptian government have taken positive steps to increase the diversity and number of Internet users and to take advantage of the digital revolution in the field of economic development. However, the manner in which other sections of the government have chosen to deal with Internet users and regulate Internet use will render these positive steps ineffectual in reality.

          In early 2001, the Egyptian police started to crack down on Internet users. By the end of 2003, improper Internet use was being used as a justification for the increased prosecution of individuals from several different political groups along with Islamists, journalists, homosexuals, and political activists. Moreover, a new specialized police unit was founded under the general department of Information and Documentation, the "Department of Combat Crimes of Computers and Internet." The new unit is now known by the more simple title of "Internet Police"

          The first public appearance of the "Department of Combat Crimes of Computer and Internet" came on March 5th 2004 in the pages of the semi-governmental newspaper Al-Ahram. The department was mentioned in a news story about a computer programmer who was arrested for creating a web site defaming a famous official and his family. This was, however, merely the first public mention of the department-well before its name was published in Al-Ahram, the department was well known to its victims.

    Prisoners of the Internet
    • In June 2002, Al Sayda Zainab Misdemeanors Court sentenced Shohdy Naguib Sorour, the son of the late poet Naguib Sorour to a one-year prison term and a bail of EGP 200. Shohdy was condemned for the possession and dissemination of the political colloquial poem "Kosomiat" written by his late father in the early1970s. The court stated that the poem, which had been posted by Shohdy on the web site wadada.net, transgressed public morality.

         The case against Shohdy Naguib Sorur (Case Number 1412 for the year 2001, classified "Al-Sayda misdemeanors") was decided against Sorour on the basis of Article Number 178 of the penal code which criminalizes the possession of materials violating public morality with purposes of distribution, trafficking, or breaching morality.

          During the police investigation of the case, it was found that not only was Shohdy's PC not connected to the Internet but also that his PC's hard disk did not contain the poem in concern. The only piece of evidence found by the Vice Squad-and the only evidence that it seems was required for the successful prosecution of the case-was the hard copy of the poem in Shohdy's possession.

         Perhaps the police did not realize that Shohdy is Naguib Sorour's son. As the author's son it is perfectly ordinary that Shody should possess his father's poem, much like thousands of the poet's readers and fans possess this same poem by a poet renowned for his criticisms of the political situation.

    The way Shohdy's case was handled implies several points:
      - A literary text or a piece of art, no matter what tone it may take, should be dealt with from the perspective of literary criticism and not one of security.

      - Current Egyptian legislation is unable to properly deal with recent developments in the field of publishing. For example, a person can create a website on a host in one country, publish the content while being in a second country, and be arrested by the security forces of a third country even if neither the laws of the country hosting the web site nor those of the country from which the content was posted criminalize the publishing of the posted material. These technical complexities can create doubts amongst the justices of the court hearing cases related to the Internet.

      - Egyptian judicial professionals are not well informed about computers or the Internet. This situation necessitates the appointing of experts, as occurred in the case No 809 for the year 2003, classified "Emergency High State Security," and known as "the case of the revolutionary socialists group."
  • Ashram Ibrahim was charged with using the Internet to send false information to "foreign bodies" (meaning foreign human rights organizations) about human rights violations within Egypt.
    In his original accusatory memo the officer did not clarify his source of information nor the nature of the alleged sent information. To do so would be tantamount to admitting that he monitored Ashraf's e-mails, thereby breaching Ashraf's right to privacy and breaking the law as he had not received have the proper warrant to do so.

         The prosecution did not attempt to verify the officer's unnamed source of information or to even investigate the nature of the alleged sent information. Nor did the prosecution notice that the officer had not received the proper authorization to wiretap Ashraf's calls or to monitor his e-mails.

         Throughout the duration of the case, in which Ashraf and the others four persons indicted were eventually declared innocent, the case file contained only some political papers printed out from some web sites. There was absolutely no proof given to support the officer's allegations.

  • On a website he runs from Holland, the Islamist activist Osama Rashed claims that one of the reasons for the detention of the Egyptian Islamist activist Salah Hashem is that he once e-mailed some Islamist leaders living abroad. The messages sent by Sala Hashem, an engineer charged for being a founder of an Islamic political group, contained evaluations of books issued by the historical leaders of the Islamist organization "Al Gama'a Al Islamiyya" who are currently detained in Egyptian prisons.(5) These books are known in English as The Intellectual Revisions (Al Moragaat Al Fekria)

  • On Thursday, June 5th 2004, twelve leaders of the Muslim Brothers in the Monifiya governorate were sentenced to 15 days imprisonment pending further investigation by the High State Security Prosecution. Among those imprisoned were several people who run a web site called "Egypt's Window." The web site contains the group's ideology, press releases, newsletters, and letters from its former general guide Ma'moun Al-Hudeiby." The proceedings of the interrogation stated that the Muslim Brothers used the Internet to chat with each other using the "Pal Talk" program, to post news about its leaders and the group's ideology, and to inform members of their assigned tasks. (6)

    Banning, Confiscating and Imprisoning
      Religion, sex, and politics constitute an unapproachable triangle of taboo in the Arab region. In Egypt, however, this triangle has become a square. Corruption has been added as the fourth taboo. Many have attempted to broach the issue of government corruption, and few of them have survived. The Internet offers new hope for the reopening the issue and casting new light upon it.
  • Ahmed Hareedy, an Egyptian journalist, created a website named "Al Methaq Al Araby" ("The Arab Chart"). The site contained articles critical of Egyptian syndicates. Publishing these articles on the Internet, as opposed to conventional print media, did not save Hareedy from being sentenced to 6 months imprisonment and a fine of EGP 7500. Hareedy attacked the constitutionality of the penal code articles related to the imprisonment of journalists and is now waiting for the constitutional court decree.(7)

  • According to the Elaph electronic newspaper, Essam Hanna Wahba was sentenced to a one-year prison term with labor on the charge of "disseminating abroad false news that could harm the state's national interests." Wahba was prosecuted before the Emergency High State Security Court. Wahba's case fell under the jurisdiction of this "exceptional court" because of the nature of Security's allegations against him.

          The damning evidence in Wahba's case was an e-mail he sent to the (FBI) Federal Bureau of Investigation saying that the life of David Walsh the American ambassador would be in danger if he visited Asyout on the 11th and 12th of December 2002. The question, though, is whether e-mail can be considered as a means of publishing? It is commonly accepted that to publish means to disseminate information widely for an unspecified audience. Given such a definition, an e-mail sent to one specific person or a number of persons could not be a means of publishing.(8)

  • Al Shaab newspaper was subjected to governmental restrictions two weeks ago. Egyptians are not able to log on to the web site inside Egypt due to an illegal ban executed by the ISPs taking their instructions from security bodies. It is easy to visit the newspaper's web site, through the proxy, which is a common Internet tool, for example you can log on through….."

    Ever since the Egyptian government placed an illegal ban on their official web site alshaab.com and the alternative web-site alarabnews.com, the editors of Al Shaab have been running this paragraph in every issue of their print newspaper. This paragraph is published in every issue of the newspaper Al Shaab, which is "issued by the activity-deprived oppositional labor party," after the illegal banning of their official web site "alshaab.com" and the alternative web site "alarabnews.com." According to Al Shaab, the Internet ban was placed after the print Al Shaab itself was shut down for a period of a time a few years ago by the Egyptian government due to the newspaper's continuous attacks on government corruption. (9)

    The Trap
           Egyptian police take advantage of the general social rejection of certain groups such as political dissidents, Islamists, homosexuals, and leftists to arrest members of these groups using illegal methods and procedures. Those who condone the arrest of these socially rejected groups, however, overlook the fact that every person has the right to legal protection, regardless of their social status.

           If this right should be waived for members of specific groups there would be no insurance that such illegal use of authority would not be extended and applied to everybody. Thus, the use of extra-legal methods in these cases is a perilous indication of future losses to come in basic legal and human rights.

           Many police officers think that the Internet is within their dominion. The legal phrase ". . . after obtaining the permission of the Public Prosecution" does not exist in the papers of the majority of cases related to the Internet. It is commonplace for police officers to observe, to arrest, and then to prosecute Internet users without considering whether the user has ever in fact broken any laws. Additionally, officers often employ illegal procedures in making such arrests.

            Since early 2001, till the end of 2003, some 46 men had been trapped through the Internet, arrested, prosecuted, and convicted of practicing sexual relations with other men.(10) The newspaper Al-Wafd stated that, in fact, more than 400 homosexual men who have been arrested in different places and through different websites. (11)

           Many victims interviewed by HRW recalled that they had been arrested after being trapped by a person called "Raoul." "Raoul" conversed with them in "chatrooms" and through "I seek a friend" ads. After maintaining on-line contact for a while, "Raoul" appoints a date and a place for a physical meeting; it was at this meeting that "Raoul's" victims find themselves arrested, charged with "debauchery," and placed in jail where they are the subjects of torture. (12)

           Though there is a difference between the numbers of the men arrested through the Internet cited by HRW and by Al Wafd, both sources agree on the method of entrapment: the Vice Squad's use of the pseudonym "Raoul" to snare Internet users who are perceived to be outlaws. (13)



    ------------------------------
    Footnotes
    1. Islam online websites, 27/07/2000, accessed on 18/05/02
    http://www.islamonline.net/iol-arabic/dowalia/alhadath2000-jul-27/alhadath7.asp
    2. Interview by the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information with "Mohammad," the pen name of a Cairo net café manager. April 14 2003.
    3. "In A Time of Torture," report, accessed 26 March 2004.
    www.hrw.org\arabic\reports\2004\eg-intime5.htm,
    4. Rasha Moustafa Awad, Arab Magazine for Information and Sciences, July 2003, 15.
    5. www.elmahrousa.net. Accessed July 19th 2002
    6. Al Hayat, July 7 2003.
    7. Al Araby, 19 February 2003; Press Release, The Association for Human Rights Legal Aid, February 19 2003.
    8. Elaph web site, 29 January 2003
    9. We have chosen not to reveal the address of Al Shaab alternative web site so as to not reveal it to state security. Accessed 22 March 2004.
    10. "In A Time of Torture: The Assault on Justice In Egypt's Crackdown On Homosexual Conduct," HRW report, March 2004.
    11. "Sex Crimes on the Net Under Crackdown," Al Wafd, 30 December 2004.
    12. "In A Time of Torture: The Assault on Justice In Egypt's Crackdown On Homosexual Conduct," HRW report, March 2004.
    13. "Sex Crimes on the Net Under Crackdown," Al Wafd, 30 December 2004.





         The Internet became available in Yemen in 1996. From this time on, two Yemeni companies have controlled Internet service provision: Teleyemen and The General Institution for Communication. The number of the Yemeni Internet users in 2004 was estimated to be only 150,000 (1). The total number of subscribers is far less than this number, as every subscription is used by more than one user.

         In June 1997, the number of Yemeni Internet users was estimated to be 920. In November 1997 the number reached 840 users, and in October 2000, there were 2000 users (2). The number multiplied quickly after the year 2000 and reached more than 150,000 in April 2004. The latest estimation is considered to be quite small in comparison to the population in Yemen, which is around 20 million.

          Statistics show that there were 140,000 personal computers in Yemen in 2003, which means that there were roughly 7 personal computers for every 1000 people. By the end of 2002 there were 248 Yemeni websites on the Internet. There were 51 governmental websites, 15 news websites, 24 embassy and organizational websites, 91 private business websites, 23 educational websites, 6 bank and insurance company websites, and 7 websites of forums and various Internet services (3).

          As reported by Al-Hayat 76% of the Internet users are males and 24% are females. Those who have a university degree constitute 50% of the total number of users. 40% of the users are between 21 and 25, 31% are between 26 and 30, and 15% are between 31 and 35. (4)

    Removing the Barriers
      Both the Yemeni Ministry of Communications and the Yemeni Ministry of Culture have banned and monitored many websites, actions that have led to a decline in Internet usage in Yemen. Governmental policy is not limited only to monitoring of the websites. The government went farther when it ordered that Net cafes remove the barriers separating one user from another, thereby violating users' privacy. Visitors of these Net cafes were used to having a private cabinet to themselves and to logging on to the websites they chose without being seen by anyone else.
    "use of the net cafes has declined, notably because the visitors cannot enjoy privacy when surfing the Internet. Visitors consider the removal of the barriers to be in violation of their privacy because they feel that they are monitored when they want to check their e-mail or send messages or something of that sort" Tawfeeq Mohammad, Yemeni Net café owner

          The net cafés in Yemen are important due to the economic problems in the country which make it difficult for people to afford both a personal computer. and the expensive Internet connection. It is said that, for a period of time, some officials in the Ministry of Communication cut the free Internet connection service provided by the state in order to make users turn to the paid Internet connection service. (6)

          In 2000 the number of the net cafes in Yemen was about 50; the number increased over the years until there were 250 net cafes in Sana'a, the Yemeni capital, alone. Moving the barriers between the users in the net cafes has led to a more than 300% decrease in net cafes' revenues and the bankruptcy of a majority of the net cafes. Many other Yemeni net cafes closed due to the administrative and technical monitoring imposed on them. Such monitoring contradicts the government's repeated statements that Yemen is broadening the field of communication and information technology to a larger audience and that it intends to establish an e-government. It is expected that the recent regulations will continue to cause the number of net cafes to decrease (7).

          Explaining the government's use of censorship Kamal Al-Gabry, a director in the Ministry of Communication, has asserted that "censorship is very important, because the Internet is a double-edged sword." Opposed to Al-Gabry's opinion are some Yemeni law professionals who think that the authorities have grossly violated users' right to privacy and have broken the laws that safeguard the right to free communication. They also believe the blocking and banning of websites to be a means of control adopted by a Ministry of Communications that has modeled itself as the protector of the values and the morality of Yemeni people. (8)

          The Yemeni government, like other governments which ban and censor websites, justifies the bans with calls for the preservation of "morality." The ban extends to other political and cultural websites. The Elaph news website, run by a London-based Saudi commercial company, was banned for a period of time upon grounds that the site was posting "sexual material." However, the real reason for the ban as stated by the Yemen Observer website was that Elaph had published reports containing personal criticism of the Yemeni President Ali Abd'allah Saleh and his elder son Ahmed as well (9).



    ------------------------------
    Footnotes
    1- Al-Riyadh newspaper website. 14 September 2003. visited on 21 March 2004.
    http://www.alriyadh-np.com/Contents/14-09- 2003/RiyadhNet/COV_1128.php
    2- Dr. Rasem Al-Gammal, "Human Capital in the Information Society in Arab states, Arab magazine for Science and Information," June 2003, 24.
    3- Al-Hayat newspaper, issue No 14903, 15 January 2004.
    4- Ibid.,
    5- Al-Riyadh newspaper website, 14 September 2003, accessed on 21 March 2004
    http://www.alriyadh-np.com/Contents/14-09- 2003/RiyadhNet/COV_1128.php
    6- Elaph website, 8 January 2004, accessed on 19 January 2004
    http://www.elaph.com:9090/elaph/arabic/index.html
    7- Al-Riyadh newspaper website, on 14 September 2003, accessed on 21 March 2004.
    8- Ibid.,
    9- Yemen Observer website, 11 May 2002






         It is impossible to address the low number of Arabic web pages on the Internet (which constitute less than 1% of all web sites) or the low numbers of Arabic users without first discussing the way freedom of expression and the right to circulate information is governed in the Arab world. This issue must be addressed the state of communications infrastructure, the content of Arabic websites, and the attractiveness of these Arabic websites to Arabic visitors.

         It is also important to consider the In addition to the extent of the interest in developing the infrastructure of the communications networks, and the content of the Arabic web pages, and to what extent they are successful in meeting the needs of their visitors.

          It is not only widespread illiteracy and poverty of the Arab world that cause to the lack of both Arabic websites and Arabic Internet users. High prices for Internet connections and phone calls are also at fault.

          The majority of the Arab governments are ambivalent towards the Internet. From the governments' point of view, the disadvantages of the Internet stem from its very advantages. This attitude has affected the growth, or the lack thereof, of the Internet in the region.

          The successful experience some gulf states like Kuwait, the Emirates and Qatar had with Internet use, in spite of some negative effects, slowly led other states to imitate them.

          The severe tone that might appear in some parts of this study affirms the rejection of the disrespect of the freedom of expression on the Internet in the Arab region, and to declare the great concern about the fact that the Arab region is the worst world's region in terms of connectivity to the Internet, despite the availability of the human and financial resources which could help in improving the situation of the Internet in the Arab world.

    Our recommendations for Arab governments follow. First, Concerning the Development of Information and Communications Technology:
      1. Provide Internet connection service and decrease the price of this service, focusing especially on rural and less accessible areas.

      2. Increasing the portion of the state's budget allocated for the infrastructure of the ICT sector. Currently, investments in this field do not exceed 0.05% of the total national income in the region. Governments should encourage investment in the realm of technology in general and the realm of ICT in particular.

      3. Computer education should be provide in all schools and universities. Educational curriculums should be continuously updated and computers made available for a reasonable price suitable with income levels.

      4. Encourage the growth of the software and communications industry, creating more beneficial economic and tax policies to govern them and decreasing tariffs that concern them.

      5. Establish specialized technical centers that can mentor talented youth in this field, sponsor them, and ultimately benefiting from their enhanced abilities.

      6. Development e-government capabilities. Encourage citizens to engage with e-government through media outreach. Provide more information on economic, social, cultural and educational activities.

      7. Free the communication sector in the Arab states. It is necessary to put in place an organized legal frame that can create an atmosphere of competition that encourages investment and offers users high quality service for lower prices.
    Secondly, in regard to the protection of the freedom of expression and the right to circulate information:
      1. Adhere to the principals of freedom of expression and the freedom to circulate information. These should be unbreakable rules that cannot be violated by any form. The only body capable of place a ban or block on a website should be the judiciary.

      2. Organize specialized training courses for judges, who are responsible for deciding in Internet-related disputes on subjects like publishing on the Internet, e-signatures, and intellectual property rights.

      3. Persons charged in cases related to the Internet must not be referred to exceptional courts 4. Amend the current laws to remove those articles that could be interpreted to limit the freedom of expression or to support freedom-negating punishments. Pass new legislations suitable for the new age of technology and Internet.

      5. Proxy censorship should be optional and operated only by the users themselves. Provide information to users on hos they can obtain programs for free or low prices that can filter websites that should not be visited by the users' children

      6. Give Internet public centers and cafes the required freedom. Encourage the growth of such establishments by providing tax incentives and decreasing the difficulties involved in obtaining licenses.
    Third, in regard to the Private sector and ISPs:
      1. Respect the privacy of users and their data, do not engage in the traffic of personal information or any other practices that would violate users' privacy.

      2. Decrease prices of Internet services like web design and site hosting. This will help encourage more citizens to interact with the Internet
    Fourth, Recommendations for the International Telecommunications Union (ITU)
      1- The ITU should provide Arab states with aid in developing human resources by organizing training courses and sessions and provide grants that can help companies in this field develop.

      2- Encourage exhibitions to be held under ITU auspices in the field of information and telecommunications in the Arab region. These exhibition should both keep up with rapid developments and encourage the private sector to invest.
    General recommendations
         There should be more interest in developing content on Arabic website. The content of websites is an essential factor in attracting an audience.

         Also, as high speed internet connections like DSL services are rare in the Arab world, websites should streamline their content so as to allow for faster download times.




         The following pieces of advice may already be known to the more savvy Internet user. We offer them to aid the casual and novice user. This advise offered here will help you take a few technical steps that will help protect your e-mail and personal computer from being hacked.

         There do exist easily accessible websites that provide addition advise and services for those Internet uses with more experience and greater need.

    E-mail
      1- Try to change your password periodically, as it could become known easily. Your password should consisted of eight figures, a mixture of letters and numbers. Use both capital and lower-case letters to make it more difficult to be known.

      2- Do not use successive numbers or letters such as (asdfg) or (123456789)

      3- Do not use a password based on personal information, such as your date of birth, your phone number, the name your street, your country, your city, or the person others know you love.

      4- Do not use famous names like your favorite singer or actor or football player.

      5- Open your mail account from its own page. If you use Yahoo, use only the Yahoo webpage itself. The same goes for Hotmail or any other mail service.

      6- Do not open attached files unless you recognize and trust the sender. Be careful, there are some senders who will use names with letters close to the name of a person you know, changing only a letter or two

      7- If you have a password that contains symbols, numbers, and letters that make it difficult to remember, do not save it in a file on your computer. Instead, write in on paper and keep it safely away from the computer.

      8- Periodically empty your inbox. Do not forget to empty the trash as well. If you have messages you do not want to loose, save them to your hard disk and delete them from the inbox. This way, if your email is hacked, the problem will not be as great.

      9- Do not forget to click the "sign out" button to close your e-mail. It is best, after signing out, to return to the home page and then close the browser completely.
    General advice
      1- When accessing a forum or a chatting page. If a window appears asking you to enter your password a second time after you click upon the link taking to you inbox, do not enter your password. False pages like this are sometimes created by people attempting to spy on e-mail.

      2- Do not trust any website. Lately, the hackers have introduced wrong advices and provide the users with hacking programs and hack those users, as the beginner user might be happy for learning something new 3- Avoid downloading protection programs from the Internet

      4- Do not check the tab "remember my ID" or "remember my password." This will save your password to your computer, making it easy for hackers to find your password and access your account.

      5- Try to save your personal account information on a floppy disk or a CD and not on your hard disk, because many of us forget the secret question that they have to answer it in case they forgot their password.

      6- Update you Anti Virus Program weekly. Turn on the spam blocking option as well.

      7- Use a firewall program like zonealarm.

      8- Use a program to detect "spyware" (e.g. adaware) that my have been installed on your computer with your knowledge.

      9- Do not trust new Internet acquaintances. Do not be in a rush to identify yourself and reveal true information about yourself.

      10- Do not send password or other important information via ordinary e-mail, encoded e-mail, or chat programs.

      11- Do not open password-protected websites when using computers in public places such as net cafes without first making sure that there are no monitoring programs. When you are finished, be sure that you delete all the information you may have entered.

      12- There are many ways to detect the presence of spy-ware. Though each spy-ware program is unique, there do exist general ways to disable such programs if they exist. Here is one way:

        First, search the setup folder. Select the Start menu, click Run, and type "Regedit." In the new window, click the folders in the following order: HKEY - LOCAL - MACHINE- Software-Microsoft - Windows - Currentversion - Run
        When you open this last file, you will find the names of the files that indicate the presence of spy-ware on you computer. Typically, the name of this file is strange and not included under a specific program. The name usually ends with .exe. For example: patch.exe, fast.exe or explo23.exe After you find the file, delete it from the windows folder. If you find nothing, search in the System folder inside the windows folder. Do not forget to restart you computer after erasing the file

      13. If you are not able to access and delete files stored in the recycle bin, select the contents of a file, delete them and paste in other content that does not contain important information. Then save these changes to the file and delete it.


    We hope that this advice will prove to be helpful to ordinary computer users in protecting their privacy and safety.



    The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
    www.hrinfo.net
    www.hrinfo.org