Yesterday’s decision by one of Egypt’s highest courts to ban porn sites is yet another example of the government’s losing battle to control the thoughts and actions of its people.
The Administrative Court, based in Cairo, has ordered the government to block the sites in response to a case brought by Muslim lawyer Nizar Ghorab, who filed the case under his own initiative.
He welcomed the decision today, saying: “Thank God we won. Now the government should stop these electronic dens of vice immediately.”
Arguing in court, Ghorab cited the case of a senior civil servant and his wife who were arrested last year for holding “swinger” parties after soliciting other parties over the internet.
Although the decision can be appealed to a higher court, Ghorab believes that this is unlikely as it would put the government in the uncomfortable position of being seen to protect pornography.
“Freedoms of expression and public rights should be restricted by maintaining the fundamentals of religion, morality and patriotism,” the AFP news agency quoted the court as saying in its ruling.
Freedom of speech has long been under fire in Egypt. The country has been held in a state of perpetual emergency rule since President Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party came to power in 1981. An estimated 18,000 people are in prison under Egyptian law, which allows police to arrest people without charge, while media organisations are kept firmly under the yoke of state control.
This curtailment of civil freedoms on the street has led many young Egyptians to turn to the virtual highway. According to government figures from 2007, Egypt has around 12m internet users, one in nine of the country’s population, making it the largest online presence of all the Arab nations.
Nine per cent of this – around 800,000 people – use the social networking site Facebook, which has become a powerful voice for the country’s youthful population. Epitomised in the April 6 Youth Movement, a political group created during last year’s protests which now has more than 700,000 members, social networks are taking on a political face.
Within hours of the first bombings of Gaza by Israel in January, around 2,000 people had organised a n ad hoc demonstration using Facebook and taken to the streets, many of them voicing their anger at their own government for what they saw as collusion with Israel.
In this light, the Egyptian court’s ruling to try to censor the internet is a cynical and hollow attempt to extend its waning power to the untapped domain of the internet. Pornography may often typify the exploitation of society’s most vulnerable and expolited, yet it also represents the power of freedom of expression in the face of moral censure from mainstream society.
Love it or loathe it, porn is a barometer to a country’s politics. And the more the Egyptian government tries to restrict the freedoms of its people in the name of “religion, morality and patriotism,” the closer it will come to its own demise.