Those familiar with the academic literature on social media and its implications for democracy and governance are likely to spot the dominance of the Arab Spring as a case study. Often, the 2011 revolution in countries like Egypt and Tunisia is highlighted as evidence of how social media provides an effective alternative avenue for the mobilization of citizens’ discontent and consequently, for organizing protests against governments. On the other hand, other scholars have pointed out the fact that social media also is providing a platform for inciting terrorism.
On the basis of the latter, a draft bill has been presented by an Egyptian Parliamentarian, Reyad Abdel Sattar, which seeks to make it obligatory for social media users in Egypt to register with the government in order to have login details that are linked to their national IDs. This is to “facilitate state surveillance over social networks” to “combat terrorism and incitement against the state”. Ironically, the MP is a member of the Free Egypt Party, a party that was formed on the heels of the Arab Spring and according to the BBC, stands for “freedom, democracy, and a civil state that is based on citizenship”. Now, how are the values of the party consistent with the idea of stifling freedom of tought and of expression on social media? It is ironical that a political class that may have benefitted the most from the Arab Spring in Egypt and indeed, the political expression and citizen mobilization on social media that underpinned the former, will now turn around to propose such a repressive law.
Fortunately, this is just a draft bill and according to the CNN, Egypt’s Ministry of Communication has attempted to distance itself from it. However, judging by the fact that all governments post-Mubarak, have intensified surveillance in Egypt, one can never say never. Really, for a country that has over thirty million users on Facebook alone, one wonders whether the resources that would have to be expended to enforce this law (if it is passed) could not rather be used to invest in other projects that undermine the foundations for building support for terrorism and other forms of anti-state violence.
I doubt there is any country in the world where, the social media login details of citizens are in the pocket of the government. This draft bill seeks to strip Egyptians of their privacy rights and the other few freedoms they still have and as such, must not be allowed to see the light of day. As a country considered as the cradle of civilization, a proposed law basically asking citizens to change the locks of their homes for new ones from the state is far from befitting.