Egyptian High Court Overturns Porn Ban

UncensoredEgypt650CAIRO – The block on pornographic websites is off again in Egypt, following a ruling in which the country’s Supreme Administrative Court used a determination of procedural error to overturn its own previous decision.

Conservative Islamists’ attempts to ban online pornography and other “vile content” — seen by some Egyptians as a moral imperative and by others as a thinly veiled effort to throttle free speech — has been ongoing for nearly four years, with victories going to both sides in the battle. Saturday’s high-court decision is only the latest in a series of reversals and re-reversals.

According to one lawyer, though, this may be the final word on the subject, at least for the foreseeable future.

On one side, fundamentalists argue that porn violates Islamic law, harms marriages and families, and contributes to an overall decline in social values. The anti-porn contingent claimed a major victory in 2009 when then-Prosecutor General Abdel Maguid Mahmoud ordered the ministries of telecommunications, information and interior to implement a May Supreme Administrative Court order to block pornography and other internet content considered potentially immoral or “inconsistent with the values and traditions of the Egyptian people and the higher interests of the state.”

The ministries refused to comply, citing public expense of as much as LE100 million (about U.S. $16.5 million) to institute the necessary blocks at the internet’s root. In a country where many residents are unemployed and living without basic necessities like power, ministers argued a sum that large could be put to better use.

In March 2012, acting on a request from Mahmoud, an Egyptian administrative judge decreed all porn illegal. That November, Mahmoud issued another edict to the ministries. With the support of then-President Mohamed Morsi, the ministries again declined to cooperate.

In June 2013, Islamist lawyer Ibrahim Atteya took the case to Egypt’s high court a second time, saying the government inflated its cost estimates by a factor of more than 10. The actual cost to institute root-level internet blocks, Atteya claimed, would be only LE7-8 million. The lawyer also accused Morsi — the first democratically elected president in Egypt’s history — and his government of corruption and of ignoring the welfare of the Egyptian people to further his own political agenda.

In early July, the Egyptian military forcibly removed Morsi from office and suspended the constitution.

The military’s action contributed to the Supreme Administrative Court’s Aug. 24 decision to overturn its own previous ruling. Citing procedural errors in Atteya’s petition, the court ruled Atteya based his filing on a section of the now-suspended 2012 constitution. Since the defunct constitution asserted Islamic Sharia formed the basis for all legislation in Egypt and Atteya’s main legal argument was that pornographic websites violate Sharia, his petition became moot, the court ruled.

Hassan Azhary, an attorney with the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, told Daily News Egypt the court’s ruling on procedural grounds essentially kills conservatives’ hope of censoring the internet, at least anytime soon.

“Technically speaking, the internet pornography ban is almost impossible now,” Azhary said.

 

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Sue Denim

Sue Denim

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