UPDATE, April 18 2019: According to NetBlocks, Egypt has now blocked access to the bitly URL shortening service, which breaks an estimated 37.5 billion web links hosted by the service.
NetBlocks* internet measurement data identified that Egyptian ISPs have blocked 34,000 internet domains in order to put a stop to the recent campaign against government-proposed amendments that could keep President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in power for another 15 years.
The ISPs facilitating these web blocks are Telecom Egypt, Raya, Vodafone, and Orange, and the affected domains include seemingly unrelated sites such as “prominent technology startups, self-help websites, celebrity homepages, dozens of Open Source technology projects, as well as Bahá’í, Jewish and Islamic faith group websites and NGOs”.
NetBlocks describes the affected websites, which are all hosted on a shared IP address owned by hosting provider Netlify, as “significant collateral damage” by President el-Sisi’s government.
Part of the anti-Sisi campaign, called Batel (Arabic for “Void”), included an online petition that managed to reach 60,000 signatures within the first hours of its launch before it was blocked on April 9.
As a way around the blocks, campaigners created mirror sites, which are subsequently being blocked too. Despite the blocks, the anti-Sisi campaign, which is currently on its fifth mirror, has reached more than 250,000 signatures.
The website is not only blocked in Egypt, but also in Sudan, another nation known for censoring online content in the wake of political unrest.
Egypt is considered “Not Free” in Freedom House’s Freedom on the Net 2018 report, and this new wave of internet censorship comes after the introduction of tighter regulations that allow the state to block websites or social media accounts considered a threat to national security.
However, those who want to access blocked sites in Egypt are still able to do so by using a VPN. VPNs encrypt internet traffic and can change the IP location of a VPN user outside of a particular country, to circumvent government geo-restrictions.
While some VPN services are blocked in Egypt, the legal status of VPN usage in Egypt isn’t clear-cut. However, a cybersecurity law passed in August 2018 threatens to jail those who access censored websites.
*NetBlocks is an online resource that reports on internet blocking and downtime around the world using proprietary technology that maps the IP address space of a region. Called “diffscans”, this technology can pinpoint where and when internet disruptions took place.