Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1135, 14 - 20 February
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1135, 14 - 20 February

Ahram Weekly

Temporarily out

Can a court ruling banning YouTube for a month be implemented? Mohamed Abdel-Baky examines the possibilities

Al-Ahram Weekly

On Saturday the Administrative Court asked the government to block access to YouTube for 30 days to punish the website for hosting The Innocence of Muslims, trailer to a purported film which sparked riots across the Muslim world in September.
Delivering the ruling, judge Hassouna Tawfik described the film as “offensive to Islam” and to the Prophet Mohamed. The court noted that YouTube ignored a ministerial decree issued last September demanding the removal of the video. It is not clear why the court opted for a 30-day ban. Critics of the ruling argue it will achieve nothing since after a month Egyptian Internet users will once again be able to access the film.
“The video endangers national security and public interests,” the court said. “YouTube insisted on hosting a film disrespecting the beliefs and feelings of millions of Egyptians and disregarding the anger of all Muslims.”
It is now up to the prime minister, the Ministry of Telecommunication and the head of the National Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (NTRA) to take whatever actions are necessary to enforce the court ruling.
When, last year, the then prosecutor-general Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud declared a ban on pornographic websites his decree was shelved because of the high costs associated with the required technical applications. Blocking YouTube may be easier to enforce.
Lawyer Mohamed Salem filed a lawsuit against YouTube’s administration, and against any other social media websites that broadcast anti-Islamic content, last September.
“Such films are made to distort the image of religion and the prophet in children’s minds. It is the responsibility of the government to fight such ideas and protect our children,” Salem said after the court ruling on Saturday.
He added that the judgement was a victory for Muslims and the rule of law in Egypt and showed that Egypt’s judicial authority was ready and able to defend Islam.
The Innocence of Muslims trailer, produced by an Egyptian-born Christian who is now a US citizen, sparked deadly protests that killed more than 50 people last year. On 29 January Cairo Criminal Court handed death sentences to seven of the filmmakers, and sentenced US pastor Terry Jones, notorious for his Quran burning antics, to a five-year jail term. The case was largely symbolic given that the defendants, who live in the United States, were all tried in absentia.
The NTRA Authority said it would abide by the YouTube ban ruling as soon as it receives a copy of the verdict. However, sources in the Ministry of Telecommunication told Al-Ahram Weekly that there might be some difficulties implementing the ruling. First, a copy of the verdict must be handed to Google, the owners of YouTube. Domestic Internet providers will then have to be ordered to block any access to the website from Egypt.
A spokesperson for Google said on Sunday the company had not “received any court order related to this case”.
“Google has not yet decided whether it will contest the verdict or not. We are waiting to read the reasons of the verdict,” says Maha Abul-Enein, Google’s spokesperson in the Middle East and North Africa.
In the wake of Muslim anger last September YouTube was blocked by several governments. In Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah issued an order blocking access to all websites, including YouTube, that had broadcast the film, while in Pakistan Prime Minister Rava Pershez Ashraf ordered the closure of the website.
Human rights activists have condemned the verdict as a potential threat to freedom of expression in Egypt. Hafez Abu Seada, director of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR), told the Weekly that blocking YouTube represents “collective punishment” for Egyptians and isolation from the outside world.
“We fully respect court rulings, but this verdict deprives millions of Egyptians of their right to access information.”
He added that the court order violates Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which guarantees the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek various forms of information and ideas.
Gamal Eid, director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, believes the judge’s ruling reflects his ignorance of Internet technology.
“Instead of blocking the whole website the judge could have simply ordered a ban of those pages deemed offensive.”
The decision to block YouTube, says Eid, is counterproductive given that there are thousands of videos on the site that promote Islam and the Prophet Mohamed. These will now be unavailable.
A complete block of YouTube, says technical expert Abdallah Helmi, is impossible. Most Internet users in Egypt use applications that enable them to break any block. He also notes that the movie can be accessed from other websites.
“Similar court rulings in China, Venezuela and Pakistan all failed to block users accessing sites, including YouTube. It’s not that hard to develop proxy programmes that break the ban.”

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