We reported yesterday on moves made in Egypt to censor parts of the internet and carry out an especially draconian campaign on porn sites. Information garnered from local sources today confirm the speculation. An Egyptian court has outright declared internet pornography illegal. The move comes as pressure mounted on the ruling parties to do something about the pornography problem from conservative groups. The country is currently in a period of transitional period as it awaits a new constitution. Power is balanced between the country’s parliament, led by conservative Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood, and the country’s military, which previously ruled autocratically lead by Hosni Mubarak.
Questions arise as to how enforceable the new law could possibly be. A court in Egypt proclaimed a similar ban in 2009 and it never saw any practical implementation. The country could simply declare it illegal, as is the case with child pornography in the west, and attempt to prosecute those who are using it and who have obtained it. That system heavily relies on international compromise and agreement in hunting down those that supply the offensive images. Egypt will have no such support in a monolithic pornography ban. The other option for the country is to filter its citizen’s internet access, a method that is being actively investigated according to rulers, and one which raises many more questions about the country’s future.
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This move could be the shot that signals a very different Egypt and one that the west won’t find as cooperative as has been enjoyed in recent times. The military is still pro west, the country receives billions in military aid every year to keep them that way and to continue their influence over the country’s policy. Egypt is very important to the United States for two major reasons. The country borders Israel whose security is a strategic imperative and it surrounds the Suez canal one of the world’s most important shipping routes and the most important in terms of energy.
Egypt’s increasing political conservatism led by Islamic groups like the Muslim Brotherhood has led to a fulcrum in relations between the country and the West. Nobody can be quite sure which direction it will swing. A more tradition and Arab centered Muslim state would be seen as a very different partner in the region compared with Mubarak’s autocracy. The ban on pornography certainly suggests a move in this direction. The control of the internet information well once put in place can ebb and flow until the government takes a great deal of control over the information available to the citizenry. The hundred member constitutional committee has seen walk outs by liberal members over frustration with the increasing conservatism of the project.
The Arab Spring uprising certainly brought some change to Egypt but it may not be for the better. The former military leadership were brutal and attacked its own people as they protested, the new conservative paradigm seeks to control the country’s information flows. The new owner seems as bad as the old owner.