In a bid to curb dissent and online social movements fueling protests against the present government, the Egyptian police have started to randomly stop and search citizens. On official orders, phones and laptops are searched for anti-government posts.
Protests have been rare in Egypt since Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s takeover in 2013. This is because the new administration has cracked down on dissent in a bid to “stabilize Egypt”. However, following allegations of corruption from a former contractor for the government, Mohammed Ali, there has been online calls for a demonstration against government corruption.
This has led to protests by hundreds in the country’s capital, Cairo and several other Egyptian cities. As a result, the Egyptian police have turned to rely on conventional tactics to root out protesters.
There have been reports of the police stopping people as they walk. The social media accounts of victims are checked for posts critical of the president or distributed information on the protests.
According to the Wall Street Journal, citizens aware of the tactics have begun to delete political posts and any incriminating messages from their phones before heading out in Cairo.
Africa’s censorship problem
But it’s not just an Egyptian problem. This move is somewhat similar to a common practice by the notorious police unit in Nigeria, Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). The unit is known to stop young people with laptops and unlawfully arrest, attack or, in extreme circumstances, kidnap them.
However, while the Egyptian police are carrying out their activities to clampdown on protesters, SARS is known to obtain money from victims under the guise of clamping down on online fraudsters.
The Egyptian government is, however, not stopping at its stop and search tactics to clampdown on protests. According to a cybersecurity firm, Check Point, there have been targeted cyberattacks on Egyptian journalists, academics, lawyers, opposition politicians and human rights activists. Attackers have installed software on the targets’ phones to enable them read the victim’s files and emails as well as identify who they contact and when.
And since the protests began on September 20, over 3,000 people have been arrested in relation to the protests.
The moves are, however, not unprecedented. Egypt has a long history of monitoring citizens online. The country instituted a new social media bill last year, one that gives the government authority to suspend or block any personal account which publishes or broadcasts fake news. This includes “anything (information) inciting violating the law, violence or hatred”.
The country has also blocked websites that supposedly constitute a threat to its national security or economy with a jail term placed in citizens that still go on to visit them.
Such moves are increasingly rampant on the African continent. Over time, there have been clampdowns on social media activities by various governments and some of the moves have either being through absurd bills or a total internet shutdown.
Although Egypt has not had an internet shutdown under the current administration, at this point, there’s no telling how far the North African country is willing to go.
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