If you live in Egypt, you can’t read this blog today

By Geoffrey Mock, Amnesty International USA Egyptian Country Specialist

Can you imagine if the US government banned the very platform where you are reading this blog today? Well, that is what has happened in Egypt. The government has banned Medium along with dozens of other online publications as part of their crackdown.

In three years, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has effectively silenced nearly all channels for independent Egyptian journalism. Sisi’s efforts to ramp up digital censorship has put Egyptian media in a state of emergency. It’s censorship that goes beyond anything seen in the darkest days of former President Hosni Mubarak’s efforts to muzzle civil society.

Sisi’s assault on freedom of speech and the media started immediately after he took office in 2014. But it has accelerated in the past two weeks following a visit by US President Donald Trump, where he promised Saudi and Egyptian leaders he wouldn’t “lecture” them on human rights.

Since then, more than 60 websites used by non-governmental organizations, human rights groups and independent media channels have been blocked. On Monday, the government banned Medium, the blogging platform used by Amnesty International USA and many others.

Additional banned sites include some of the remaining independent news organizations. Mada Masr, who criticized abuses by the Sisi regime, was banned in May. On Monday, along with Medium, Egyptian news sites Albedaiah, run by independent journalist Khaled al Balshy, Elbadil and Bawabit Yanair were also blocked.

Since Sisi’s election, Egyptian officials have arrested street theater groups, children’s aid organizations, photojournalists capturing security crackdowns, and political satirists. Now they’re going after the media organizations, NGOs, and political parties that support them.

All this leaves Egypt with a shrinking space for free expression. Many of the blocked sites had served as a refuge for Egypt’s remaining critical voices as they are no longer are allowed to appear on TV or in the print media.

“We publish what authorities don’t want people to read,” Lina Attallah, editor in chief of Mada Masr, told Amnesty International.

The government justifies the website bans, as well as the NGOs closures, and political opponent arrests by invoking national security. It’s true that Egypt has been subject to increased violence by armed groups, particularly in the Sinai region. But the bans of Medium and other sites make it clear that the regime is more worried about silencing political critics than stopping violence.

Of course, the fact that Egyptians can’t read this blog won’t stop Egyptian activists from seeking change. They have survived and will continue to find ways to make their voice heard. And when they do, you, in the United States, will always be able to read it here.

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