The editor-in-chief of al-Dustour newspaper, Mohamed el-Baz, has called for Egyptians to take action online to defend the state against attacks on social media.
On the Dec. 13 “Akher Al-Nahar” show on Al-Nahar, Baz said that as the 10th anniversary of the January 25 Revolution approaches, supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood are criticizing the revolution and the regime and calling for demonstrations. The Brotherhood is classified as a terror organization in Egypt.
“The people must counter the wide-scale social media attacks on Egypt,” he said, indicating that every time President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi speaks about a project, the Muslim Brotherhood’s supporters downplay its impact, and when the press reports about the state’s achievements, they claim the news is exaggerated.
He went on, “The Brotherhood’s supporters hurl so many insults at every defender of the state, and these insults make some people afraid of talking about the achievements.”
Baz explained that while the Egyptian armed forces protect the state’s borders, the “online army” will protect it electronically. “If you are walking by a new project that is under construction or a new road, take a photo of that and post it on your page,” he suggested.
The Information and Decision Support Center, the Council of Ministers’ advisory board, has worked over the past four years to discredit what it terms online rumors that tarnish the Egyptian state’s image.
Baz’ call to action is part of a wider trend. Last year, members of parliament spoke out against what they called rumors against the state and its institutions spread by the Brotherhood. There was talk of a bill to punish the sharers and a hotline to report offending social media accounts.
Suleiman Wahdan and some 10% of the rest of the parliament submitted such a bill in November 2019 to the parliamentary Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee. Wahdan wrote, “Rumors have become a threat to Egypt’s national security, seeking to tarnish the image of the state and instill fear in the community. Rumors target the state’s important institutions, symbols and matters of vital interest to the Egyptian citizens [such as] the community’s security and stability and the state’s survival. Social media has become a tool that is affecting the community’s cohesion, and subsequently Egypt’s national security.” Wahdan added that “rumors” have become a tool of “modern wars.”
The bill stipulates that any person shown to be behind creating, promoting, mobilizing or spreading such information shall be sentenced to imprisonment of six months to three years and a fine between 10,000 and 100,000 Egyptian pounds ($638-$6,383). The penalty doubles if the information results in death or injury.
Suleiman Fadl al-Omairi, a member of parliament for the Matrouh governorate, proposed in March 2019 setting up a hotline to report the social media pages that circulate what he called rumors and lies with the aim of misleading the public, stirring discord and confusion and undermining security and stability.
Sisi is paying great attention to the matter. In a speech at a military graduation ceremony on July 22, 2018, Sisi said that the Egyptian authorities had detected “21,000 rumors” spread in three months to cause chaos, instability and despair among the Egyptian people.
Sisi went on, “The real danger is blowing up countries from within. Rumors, acts of terrorism, loss of hope and feelings of frustration, all these work in a grand network aimed at one objective, only one objective, and that is to move people to destroy their country.”
In June of that year, Egypt passed a cybercrime law criminalizing cyberattacks on emails, websites and social media accounts in addition to identity theft.
The law also forbids the publication of information on movements by the army or police in sensitive operations and the promotion of the ideas of terrorist organizations. The law includes fines for the theft and hacking of emails and grants the authorities the right to block sites if there is evidence that their content poses a threat to national security or endanger the country’s national security or economy.
Some expressed reservations and objected to the law, saying that it violates internet freedom, as it grants the authorities the right to “inspect and access computer programs, databases and other devices” and force service providers to hand over user data.