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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Bloggers in the Arab world methodically harassed

An important article from Qantara:
Over the past ten years, the Egyptian government and Arab states in general have invested a great deal in Internet infrastructure. However, it was probably not clear to most regimes that this would open a door to democratic development.

"One Social Network – With a Rebellious Message", the most recent publication by the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, quotes from a study by the American RAND Institute: "The basis for an information revolution is free expression of opinion with exchange of and general access to information."

ANHRI then writes: "Not even the greatest hypocrite would maintain that Arab governments respect, let alone support, free expression of opinion, or that they uphold the right to access to and circulation of information." It is thus self-evident that the rift between governments and Internet activists grows daily with the latter struggling for democracy by way of the Internet.

According to ANHRI, there are around 58 million Internet users in the Arab world, 15 million of them in Egypt alone. The total number of blogs is estimated at 600,000, but only around 150,000 are actively used.

Most Arab blogs (around one-third) come from Egypt, followed by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Morocco. The bloggers are usually aged between 25 and 35 and write about political and religious topics as well as personal matters.

"Egyptian bloggers try to use their blogs to break through political constraints and are known for their bitter criticism of the government despite its attempts to suppress them." (ANHRI)

Internet activists in all Arab countries must expect repression. There is scarcely any other part of the world where the Internet is subject to such tight surveillance as here, where bloggers are so intimidated and persecuted, or anywhere where they are so frequently arrested and even tortured. Every year, Reporters without Frontiers publishes a list of "Enemies of the Internet"; in 2009, there were four Arab countries on the list of twelve: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Syria.
Read the whole thing, and also visit the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information for news of the latest assaults on freedom in the Arab world - assaults that are all but ignored by the world at large.

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