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Egypt takes hard line on internet pr0n, calls for total ban

EFF warns of more censorship to come

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Egyptian Prosecutor General Abdel Maguid Mahmoud has called for a total ban on internet pornography to be strictly enforced, and says that he intends to crack the whip on the purveyors of smut.

After considering the issue, Mahmoud said in a statement to government departments that his ruling requires they "take the necessary measures to block any corrupt or corrupting pornographic pictures or scenes inconsistent with the values and traditions of the Egyptian people and the higher interests of the state," Reuters reports.

In 2009, an Egyptian lower court ordered that pornography should not be made available to internet users, but that order was never enforced, partly because people were more concerned about overthrowing the government for much of the subsequent three years. Mahmoud has now said he is ready to enforce the ban.

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the move was prompted after pressure from one of the more ultra-orthodox Islamic parties, the Salafist Nour, which believes in following a strict interpretation of the Koran that's as close as possible to how the original prophet Mohammed lived.

The party, which holds seats in the current Egyptian Parliament, has been running a "Pure Net" campaign, and held a demonstration in front of the Cairo's High Court on Wednesday. An anonymous government source told the EFF that the stiff line on smutty websites came after pressure from the Salafists.

"Egyptian society is conservative by nature and rejects these websites," said Mohamed Nour, spokesman for the Salafist Nour Party, after the news was announced.

He might very well think that, but the evidence suggests there's plenty of interest in material that would annoy the Prophet. A glance at Google Trends shows searches for pornography in the country have never been higher, and now outpace the similar-sized and notoriously porn-friendly country of Germany.

Egyptian porn

Wank like an Egyptian (click to enlarge)

Nor is Egypt alone. According to some reports, Pakistan leads the world in searches for internet pornography, although Google has disputed those figures, saying sample sizes are too low. But here in the US pornography consumption is higher in conservative "Red States", with the Mormon stronghold of Utah leading the pack.

But the move to crack down on smut is worrying many, since it could be the start of greater censorship by the government on other forms of websites.

"Whichever way the Egyptian government decides to go, Egyptians are not about to let the morality police decide what they can and cannot see online," said Eva Galperin, international freedom of expression coordinator for the EFF.

"Even under the Mubarak regime," she said, "where Internet surveillance was rampant and writers and bloggers were harassed and detained for their activities online, Internet censorship was rare." ®

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