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.
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:
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
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.
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.
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:
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)
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 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
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)
1- Translated Internet news. Accessed on 6 May 2004-05-17
2- Good news 4me. Information and Technology gateway. Accessed on 28 March 2004.
3- Al-Ettehad website, 31 December 2003, Accessed on 22 March 2004
4- Al-Bayan website, 20 October 2002, Accessed on 5 May 2004.
5- Al-Bayan website, 13 October 2002, visited on 17 August 2003
6- Elaph website, 20 May 2002.
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.
1- Al-Rai, 11/04/04, accessed on 06/05/04
2- Rahad Moustafa Awad, "Information in the Arab World, Reality," Arab Magazine for Information and Science, 1 June 2003.
4- Al-Rai. 02/03/04, accessed on 06/05/04.
5- Arab Club for Media and Information Technologies websites, 13/11/2002, accessed on 05/04/04
6- Daoud Kuttab website, 20/01/04, accessed on 06/05/04
7- Arab Times, accessed on 21/03/04
8- On Line Computer Magazine, 01/02/02
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.
1- BBC, 5 May 2002, accessed on 9 November
2- BBC., 26 March 2002, accessed on 30 July 2003
3- A message from the Bahrain Center for Human Rights dated 11 April 2004
5- "The Annual Report of The Human Rights Watch For the Year 1999,"
6- Bahrain News Agency, 4 May 2004, Accessed 8 May 2004
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
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.
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.
1. Swiss Info web site. 14/09/2003. Accessed on 02/02/2004.
2. Middle East Online web site. 05/11/2003. Accessed on 04/01/2004
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
5. "The Internet in Middle East and North Africa, Free Expression and Censorship. A report by Human Rights Watch," 1999
6. BBC on Friday. 06/092002. Accessed on 04/01/04
7. Al Hayat. 9 September 2002
8. Swiss Info website. 10 December 2003. Visited on 12 February 2004.
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.
12. BBC on Friday. 6 September 2003. Visited on 4 January 2004.
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
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)
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)
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)
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
13- Good news for me website. Visited on 21/03/04
14- E-mail from the web site manager, received on 8/05/03
15- Yahoo website on 21/03/04
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
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!
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)
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.
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
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.
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
4- Index online.org website, 26/04/04, visited on 03/05/04
5- The German Television website, 20/04/04, visited on 26/04/04
6- Al-Hayat newspaper, 12/08/03
7- Ilaf Soft website, 11/04/04
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
Better Late Than Never
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.
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)
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.
1- Qantara web site, 14/02/02, Acccessed on 28/04/04,
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
5- Iraqi Research Center, 29/04/04, visited on 01/05/04
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.
1- Al-Bayan website, 05/07/01, accessed on 22/02/04,
2- Al-Watan newspaper, 18/05/03, accessed on 22/04/04
3- Al-Bayan newspaper, 05/07/01, accessed on 22/02/04
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
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)
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.
1- Al-Bayan, 22/02/01, accessed on 30/03/04
2- Akhbar Libya web site, 28/11/03, accessed on 22/04/04
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,
5- Akhbar Libya web site, visited on 17/05/04
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
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:
- 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."
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.
Banning, Confiscating and Imprisoning
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)
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)
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)
1. Islam online websites, 27/07/2000, accessed on 18/05/02
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.
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.
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
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).
1- Al-Riyadh newspaper website. 14 September 2003. visited on 21 March 2004.
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.
5- Al-Riyadh newspaper website, 14 September 2003, accessed on 21 March 2004
6- Elaph website, 8 January 2004, accessed on 19 January 2004
7- Al-Riyadh newspaper website, on 14 September 2003, accessed on 21 March 2004.
9- Yemen Observer website, 11 May 2002
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:
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.
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.
2. Decrease prices of Internet services like web design and site hosting. This will help encourage more citizens to interact with the Internet
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.
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.
There do exist easily accessible websites that provide addition advise and services for those Internet uses with more experience and greater need.
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.
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.