CAIRO, Egypt—One might think, with its gasoline shortages, riots at soccer games and the continuing demonstrations, some of them violent, attendant to the "Arab Spring" pro-democracy movement, Egyptian courts would have something better to do than to reiterate a 2009 decision to ban "pornography"—whatever they finally decide that it is.
But a decision today by an unidentified Egyptian judge has declared all pornography on the internet to be illegal, but to paraphrase President Andrew Jackson's response to a long-forgotten Supreme Court case, "The judge has made his decision; now let him enforce it!"
"The country could simply declare it illegal, as is the case with child pornography in the west, and attempt to prosecute those who are using it and who have obtained it," noted Paul Shea on the ValueWalk.com website. "That system heavily relies on international compromise and agreement in hunting down those that supply the offensive images. Egypt will have no such support in a monolithic pornography ban. The other option for the country is to filter its citizen's internet access, a method that is being actively investigated according to rulers, and one which raises many more questions about the country's future."
Currently, the largest power center in Egypt is the Muslim Brotherhood, which though it has voiced several pro-democracy positions, is not expected to liberalize its position on nudity, let alone sexually explicit material.
"[C]onservatives in the government have kept a steady fire burning to eradicate what they consider a moral scourge," wrote Athima Chansanchai on MSNBC's Technolog blog. "The lawmaker leading the charge, Dr. Younis Makhioun, targeted porn sites as the gateway drug to all kinds of societal problems, including divorce and rape," though without providing any evidence for the claims.
Indeed, it was Makhioun, backed by Egypt's Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Technology, who pushed for the courts to declare the internet porn ban, though as Chansanchai notes, "Details of what is considered pornography have not emerged." (Hopefully, the country won't take its cues from Indonesia!)
Though the parties in the case were not identified, the decision to ban all internet porn came from the Administrative Court in Cairo, which at the urging of Muslim attorney Nizar Ghorab ordered the government to block access to the "venomous and vile" material. Ghorab had argued that the "electronic dens of vice" were destroying Egyptian social values.
"Letting these websites [operate] ruins moral values," the Agence France-Presse news agency quoted the court ruling as saying. "Freedoms of expression and public rights should be restricted by maintaining the fundamentals of religion, morality and patriotism."
The Egyptian Parliament has also reportedly supported the ruling.
If Egypt does decide to institute some sort of country-wide filtering system, it's likely that among its first targets will be any websites with the .xxx domain. Years ago, when the top-level domain was first proposed, AVN, Free Speech Coalition and others warned several years ago, the establishment of the domain would open the door to Congress mandating that all producers of sexual content of any sort post their material on the Web only through a .xxx domain, and from there, it would be only a short step to Congress mandating that all ISPs require subscribers to opt in to receiving .xxx domain search results rather than automatically including .xxx in searches and allowing those who did not wish to see sexual subjects to opt out. Of course, that has not happened here yet, but we could be seeing that scenario played out in Egypt in the near future.
Of course, many Egyptian citizens don't share their government's view of sexual material, and as AVN recently reported, Egyptian student Aliaa Magda Elmahdy, a blogger and an atheist, posted nude photos of herself on the Web, daring the authorities to arrest her for the act. Her courage led to the publication of the Nude Photo Revolutionaries Calendar, which can be purchased here.