In Egypt, the government applies heavy online censorship. Examples of sites and services that could be blocked:
- News media and social media
- Digital activism
- VoIP services like Skype and Whatsapp
- LGBTQ sites
The easiest way to unblock the full potential of the internet and bypass censorship while in Egypt, is by using a VPN. Be careful that the government does not like people bypassing censorship, although so far nobody has been prosecuted for using a VPN.
We would recommend trying out NordVPN, but make sure to download the applications before entering Egypt, otherwise you might not be able to due to VPN websites being blocked!
Following the January Revolution, Egypt enjoyed an extended period of free access to the internet. However, since General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was elected as Egypt’s sixth president in 2014, the Egyptian government has cracked down on access to certain types of content and freedom on speech on the internet.
Starting with the filtering of regional news in 2015, Egypt has now blacklisted almost five hundred websites, mostly news, and media sites, and has arrested and detained more than thirty-five journalists and bloggers for their online activities.
In this article, we will be looking at how and why the Egyptian government censors the internet, what content they censor, how to circumvent censorship if you are in Egypt, and which are the best virtual private network providers to use in Egypt.
Why Does Egypt Censor the Internet?
The majority of internet censorship in Egypt is done for political reasons. The Egyptian government, under president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi actively targets media outlets, social media groups, and bloggers who criticize or make fun of the current regime.
Of the websites blocked by the Egyptian government, research by the Open Observatory of Network Interference indicated that 62% of them were news websites, with the rest divided between human rights groups, political sites, and websites and services offering ways to circumvent the censorship.
As a general rule, the Egyptian government justifies the censoring of content and website blacklisting as an anti-terrorist measure. For example, the government has repeatedly shut down phone and internet services in the Sinai Peninsula, ostensibly in order to prevent their use by Islamist militants.
What Does the Egyptian Government Censor?
The vast majority of websites censored by the Egyptian government are news websites, both foreign and local.
Following the 2018 diplomatic crisis between a number Middle Eastern countries and Qatar, Egypt permanently blocked access to 21 news websites, justifying their actions by claiming the sites were promoting terrorism.
This blacklisting included the site of al-Jazeera, a Qatari-owned television network, which was banned in Egypt because of its supposed editorial support for the Muslim Brotherhood and former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi.
Egypt’s Supreme Council for Media Regulation, a legislative organization set up in 2016 by a decree from president el-Sisi to ensure Egyptian media kept to certain “moral standards,” banned four entertainment and satirical shows on moral grounds in 2018. All the banned shows were notable for having mocked either the government or el-Sisi before being shut down.
In line with the increasingly anti-press rhetoric coming from president el-Sisi, digital activism and political organization through the internet has been harshly restricted, with those attempting to promote political change or criticizing the government subject to arrest, long jail sentences, and in the case of Shaimaa al-Sabbah, death.
A law passed in November 2013 outlawed even non-violent protests and made the organization of such protest through digital or social media channels a criminal offense. The “Anti-Cyber and Information Technology Crimes Law”, ratified on May of 2018, also allows for the prosecution of individuals who visit websites that the Egyptian government considers “a threat to national security” or to the “national economy.”
While homosexuality is not expressly illegal in Egypt, there have been several cases in which individuals have been prosecuted for promoting “sexual deviancy” and “debauchery.” In a recent high-profile case, dozens were arrested in the aftermath of the concert by the Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila, whose lead singer is openly gay.
The authorities used images of individuals holding rainbow flags at the concert, taken from social media, to convict them of “debauchery and immorality,” handing down prison terms of between one and six years.
In 2014, the dating app Grindr disabled the use of geolocation data in Egypt and displayed a warning message to all local users that the Egyptian police were using the app to track and arrest homosexual men. The New York Times estimates that between 2013 and 2016, at least 250 gay, lesbian, and transgender Egyptians were arrested because of information taken from their social media activities.
Anonymous Browsing Services
The Egyptian government has routinely blocked the websites of tools and services which can be used to circumvent censorship. These include the sites of the Tor Network, TunnelBear, CyberGhost, Hotspot Shield, TigerVPN, ZenVPN, and a range of other VPNs and proxy services.
VoIP services have been intermittently blocked by Egyptian mobile networks. Although not explicitly illegal, VoIP users have experienced severe disruptions when attempting to make voice calls over apps such as WhatsApp, Apple’s FaceTime, Viber, Skype, and Facebook Messenger. It has been noted that these service outages have coincided with periods of political unrest in Egypt.
As of December 2016, the Egyptian authorities have permanently blocked access the encrypted communications app Signal, as well the website of its operator Open Whisper Systems. While this represents the first known incident of Egyptian authorities blocking an app in its entirety, users of other encrypted apps, such as Telegram, have reported connection difficulties caused by bandwidth throttling.
How Does The Egyptian Government Censor The Internet?
As of August 2018, the Egyptian government has put into force the Anti-Cyber and Information Technology Crimes Law. This law allows the Egyptian government sweeping powers to crack down on digital freedom of speech and permits them to block websites that they consider “a threat to national security” or to the “national economy.”
Other provisions included in the law allow for harsh prison sentences to be imposed on those who refuse to provide information on their online activities to the police, hacking any government system, or publishing information on the movements of the military or police. Internet service providers (ISPs) are also required to store information on their user’s activities and release it to the Egyptian security services on request.
At the same time as the Anti-Cyber and Information Technology Crimes Law was passed, Egypt’s parliament passed a law that would treat any social media account or blog with more than 5,000 followers as a “media outlet.”
By classifying personal social media accounts and blogs as media outlets, the Egyptian government has opened them up to prosecution for crimes such as publishing fake news or “incitement to break the law.”
While ISPs operating in Egypt are mostly privately owned, the centralized internet infrastructure and all fiber-optic cables are owned and operated by Telecom Egypt, a state-owned company.
Because all of the communications infrastructures are in the hands of a government-owned company, the authorities have the ability to suspect access to the internet or use throttling to decrease internets speeds to near unusable levels.
On several occasions, the government has prevented access to the internet during times of political unrest.
In 2011 the Egyptian authorities disabled the country’s Border Gateway Protocol Routes, resulting in a full shut down of all internet traffic in less than an hour. Because of the strict terms of the agreements required by Egyptian regulators, telecommunications companies were then ordered to cut off all mobile internet and text-messaging services. This full connection blackout was justified by state intelligence agencies as a preventative action to stop terrorist activities.
As with a number of other countries in the Middle East, the Egyptian government has actively acquired surveillance technologies that allow them to restrict, monitor, and redirect internet traffic.
The acquisition of such technologies from international companies like Blue Coat, Nokia Siemens Network, and Hacking Team has allowed the government a significant level of state control over the internet and an enhanced ability to track its citizen’s internet activities.
During 2016/17 human rights activists and nongovernmental organizations in Egypt experienced a wave of phishing attacks so sophisticated and widespread that it was codenamed “NilePhish.”
During a one year period, up to 92 sophisticated phishing attacks were documented. NilePhish targeted both the organizational and personal accounts of human rights activists from seven prominent Egyptian NGOs. All of the individuals targeted by NilePhish were also accused of receiving illegal foreign funds as part of a larger and long-running trial.
The phishing attacks were attempts to obtain personal information and account credentials, and the emails appeared to be from trusted companies and services, such as Google and Dropbox, or from other human-rights activists.
Is it Illegal to Use a VPN in Egypt?
The use of a VPN is not yet illegal in Egypt. However, the Anti-Cyber and Information Technology Crimes Law does contain a provision allowing an individual to be prosecuted for viewing blocked content while in Egypt.
The anti-terrorism laws that are often used as justification for website takedowns are vaguely worded enough that it is conceivable the VPN users could be convicted of “incitement to break the law” as the definition of terrorist includes “anyone who threatens public order by any means,” although, to date, there have been no prosecutions for VPN use.
It should be noted that around 40% of the websites blacklisted by the Egyptian government are sites offering VPN services or other methods of censorship circumvention, so if you do plan to use a VPN while traveling, it’s best to sign-up to the service before you arrive in Egypt.
What is the Best VPN Service to Use in Egypt?
There are several good VPN options for those of us travelling to Egypt. We can recommend the following VPN services:
With its advanced encryption, speedy service, and a huge range of servers in countries all over the world, NordVPN represents one of the best VPN services you can choose. In a country with a history of surveillance and internet activity monitoring, NordVPN provides you with all the privacy you’ll need.
NordVPN operates a “no logging” policy and, as they are based in Panama, they are under no obligation to keep records of your online activities, and certainly won’t be handing them over to anyone.
If you want to enjoy streaming services from around the world, then NordVPN is precisely the service you want. Their VPN enables you to bypass restrictions on streaming services like Hulu and Netflix and watch the shows you want to see, regardless of where you are.
- Excellent protection and a large network of servers
- Nice and pleasing application
- No logs
If you are looking for a VPN with a fast connection for gaming or streaming, then ExpressVPN is a fantastic choice. With a massive selection of over 3000 servers worldwide you can always find a speedy connection, and their VPN network is torrent friendly.
If you choose ExpressVPN, then you don’t have to worry about what OS you are loading it onto, as their user-friendly application works on Android, iPhone, Windows, and OS x. To sweeten the deal, if you sign up to a year’s plan with ExpressVPN using our link, you can get an exclusive deal of 3 free months.
- Super fast and simple VPN
- Perfect for anonymous browsing, downloading and streaming (i.a. Netflix)
- 3000+ servers in 94 countries
A well-known VPN provider with a strong focus on the user-friendliness of their software, CyberGhost operates out of Romania and Germany and has a large user-base of over 15 million people.
As avid supporters and promoters of civil rights, a free society, and uncensored internet, the CyberGhost team focuses on letting consumers use the internet freely and anonymously. Their software is well-encrypted, user-friendly, and fast. Their subscription packages are inexpensive, and they offer an extensive money-back guarantee if you aren’t entirely happy.
- Very user-friendly
- High quality for a low price
- Torrents and Netflix possible
Despite briefly allowing their citizens free access to the internet, the Egyptian government, and particularly the el-Sisi administration, have overseen a harsh crackdown on freedom of expression, the rights of the press and free speech in Egypt.
This crackdown has also spread to significant censorship of the internet, with the government using state-owned infrastructure to monitor, censor, and sometimes entirely shut down access to the internet. As with many countries in the region, the only way to get free and unmonitored access to the internet while visiting Egypt is to use a VPN to encrypt your connection.