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Questions lurk behind ban on YouTube

Sun, June 10, 2018 20:22

By Amira Sayed:

Public opinion has recently had a look back in time to 2012 as Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court, headed by Chancellor Ahmed Abul Azm, issued on May 26 this year its final verdict banning the video-sharing website YouTube for one month on the grounds of broadcasting the trailer of an anti-Islamic film dubbed "Innocence of Muslims". Though this video first appeared nearly six years ago,  in June 2012, it  again came under fire following the recent ruling.

The film triggered outrage in many Muslim countries and prompted an Egyptian lawyer to file a lawsuit against YouTube in 2013. The lower administrative court issued an initial verdict in 2013, ordering the Egyptian National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (NTRA) to block YouTube for one month.

NTRA  managed to appeal the ruling  due to the numerous hurdles that hamper blocking this website. It pointed out at the time that blocking YouTube requires disrupting the Google search engine which would entail a hefty cost. It added that  blocking it would harm the investment atmosphere as many companies rely on this site for advertising. It would also lead to a big loss of jobs. Now, after five years, the administrative court has upheld its initial ruling, rekindling the debate on this issue.

Speaking to The Egyptian Gazette, Lawyer Naser Ali said that legal proceedings usually take a long time due to successive appeals that halt initial verdicts. But , eventually, the court issues its final ruling after thoroughly reviewing the case.

"We have to bear in mind that the court deals with highly technical issues of fact and law. I know that it seems illogical and meaningless to issue a verdict related to an issue that took place six years ago, but from judiciary perspective, it happens.  The long proceedings do not affect the court's jurisdiction and its final decisions. Once the court becomes fully aware and convinced of evidence, it issues its binding ruling even after ten years," the lawyer stressed.

Generally speaking, the recent verdict is final and binding, raising many questions regarding Egypt's ability to implement such a ban. According to a NTRA statement, it has not received the official version of the court ruling yet.

"Egypt technically can block any website. It has already blocked many websites that pose serious threat to national security. There is a difference between websites and mobile applications. The Government can block the website but it still does not have the tools for blocking apps. Therefore, I think there is nothing hampering the implementation of the verdict," Sayed Mahrous, an IT expert at a multinational company told the Gazette.

Egypt won't be the first country to take this step. Many countries, Mahrous continued, have banned social networking websites like YouTube to maintain their security." I support the implementation of the verdict not just because of the movie issue, but to send a message to such websites that they have to respect our country, its  culture and its policies and avoid similar malpractice," he said. “Social media have now become a breeding ground for fanaticism, extremism and profanity. Stricter regulations are needed.”

An economic expert Mohamed Osman told The Egyptian Gazette that such a ruling, if carried out, would deal a severe blow to the investment environment. "Many companies rely on YouTube for their advertising campaigns. Blocking such vital website for one month would make companies incur major losses. This way the country punishes companies not the film makers," he said.

In addition, Osman, who is a professor of Economics at Al Azhar University, said  issuing such a verdict after six years of broadcasting the film is useless. It , moreover, may lead to adverse consequences. "People have forgotten that film. Now, by bringing this issue under spotlight once again, many people, who had not heard of the film, might search for it out of curiosity, giving it publicity."

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