Arabs Try to Censor Internet

The Internet is a powerful means of communication. It is decentralized, resilient and easily used by individuals. As such, it is a threat to governments worldwide, who universally desire to limit the information seen by their subjects.

The Arab world presents one of the most obvious examples. Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordon, Kuwait and Bahrain seek to prevent their subjects from accessing pornography, dissident views of government and criticism of the Muslim faith. Warming the hearts of conservatives everywhere, the Arabs "get tough" by torturing, maiming, imprisoning and fining violators.

In a worldwide trend, the Arab dictatorships are attempting to gain the economic benefits of Internet access while preventing the Internet from undermining their tyranny. Of course, they don't have a choice about either; free-minded citizens find ways around the government to accomplish both. Many Saudi citizens pay $100 in long distance charges to download a single pornographic picture from the Internet, risking serious punishments in addition to the high phone charges.

Jordan contracted with GlobeNet, a U.S. firm, to provide Internet access with a screening facility allowing Jordanian censors to preview pictures before they can be transmitted to subscribers. Carlton Tolsdorf, vice president of GlobeNet, said "We agreed with the authorities' request. And, by the way, I think we should have the same thing back home in the United States."

As is becoming common, exiled dissidents from the dictatorships are using the Internet to spread news repressed by official media and to criticize government actions.

An interesting facet unique to the Middle East is that the Internet may actually serve to lessen the millenia-old hatred between Israelis and Arabs, by allowing ordinary people to see beyond the official propaganda of their governments. Although most Arab nations ban contacts with Israel, Israeli sites including the Jerusalem Post proliferate on the Internet.

Revolution extends a hearty welcome to any Arabic freethinkers who have evaded their government's restrictions to see this page.

Source: January 7, 1996, Scripps Howard news article, "Arab world grapples with the Internet's benefits, drawbacks."