CAIRO — Egypt’s Islamist-controlled government said this week it is moving to block the country’s access to pornography -- one website at a time.
Sherif Hashem, deputy head of the national telecom regulatory authority, announced that the mechanism to implement a court-ordered ban on porn websites has been ready since January. Authorities must now list every website to be targeted.
“There is no such thing as blocking such sites as a whole, but they must be specified,” Hashem told a Turkish news agency. Experts estimated the cost of the program at about 25 million Egyptian pounds ($4 million). Given Egypt’s mounting economic woes, that figure appears to some as a disturbing symbol of misplaced priorities.
The troubled economy has led to frequent nationwide protests. Railway workers, bakers, tax officers, bus drivers and doctors have gone on strike to demand better wages as prices of even the most basic commodities soar amid Egypt’s growing budget deficit.
President Mohamed Morsi’s government, which is controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood, also intends to raise taxes and slash fuel and wheat subsidies in July. Activists and opposition figures criticized the added cost of banning pornography, accusing Islamists of seeking to advance a conservative religious agenda at the expense of the state’s deeper problems.
“With a deteriorating economy, Egypt decides to invest 25 million (pounds) in blocking porn sites. Priorities?” tweeted Dalia Ezzat, a social media strategist and active Egypt observer.
Under the nation’s Islamist rule, however, voices favoring the ban are unabashed, especially given that Egypt tops the Middle East list of porn-surfing countries, according to Alexa, a subsidiary of amazon.com that provides information on Internet traffic and patterns.
Cairo’s administrative court ordered a ban on pornography in 2009, but no steps were taken to block websites. Last November, following Islamist demonstrations against porn, former general prosecutor Abdelmeguid Mahmoud ordered the ministries of interior and communication to implement the court verdict.
Prominent Islamist lawyer Nezar Ghorab, who had originally filed the lawsuit demanding the ban in 2008, said porn contributes to moral degeneration, a danger as pressing as the country’s failing economy. He blamed the toppled regime of former President Hosni Mubarak for undermining “every value in this society and [driving] it toward secularism and westernization.”
But discussions in the Islamist-led parliament about issues such as legalizing female genital mutilation, banning beach tourism and alcohol, and blocking pornography were met with a backlash from non-Islamists.
“Don’t worry, they can’t ban all the sites, when thousands of new sites pop up all the time,” one Egypt Independent newspaper reader wrote in response to the porn ban.