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Arab youths bypass government's CyberPatrol Net-censorship (fwd)
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- Subject: Arab youths bypass government's CyberPatrol Net-censorship (fwd)
- From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Ulf Möller)
- Date: Tue, 23 Sep 1997 01:50:23 +0200 (GMT+0200)
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From: Declan McCullagh <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Arab youths bypass government's CyberPatrol Net-censorship
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) - Badr knows his way around the
Internet. He easily sidesteps government attempts to block access to the
pornographic sites that have lured him and other young Arabs to the
"They close doors, but I can get in through windows," said Badr, a
20-year-old who scoffs at the struggles of conservative Arab governments to
With the Internet growing more popular, the sheikdoms of the
Persian Gulf are becoming like Western parents trying to keep pornography
away from children.
But it's not just young people that leaders worry about in these
strict Islamic societies, where women cover in black veils outside their
houses and public mingling between the sexes is discouraged.
Kisses and foul language are edited out of foreign movies, and
magazines arrive with pages torn out and photos of women inked over in
black to hide even a hint of cleavage.
Enter the Internet and the cry for censorship of pornography - and
in some cases politics - grows louder. All the region's Arab states but
one, impoverished Yemen, which cannot afford an effort to police the Web,
are working to limit access to Internet sites.
Etisalat, the only Internet provider to the seven states of the
United Arab Emirates, set up software blockades after government officials
complained about free access to the Web. A "proxy cache server" cuts out
sites deemed offensive by Etisalat, which is partly owned by the government.
Khaldoon Tabbaza, publisher of the Jordan-based Arabia Online
service, said some attempts at censorship get ridiculous.
"There is software programmed to block sites which contain certain
keywords such as nude, sex and breast. So if you're interested in getting
access to information about Middlesex county in the United Kingdom,
research about breast cancer or - a chicken breast recipe, you cannot," he
Despite the government efforts, many Arab youths search out
material on the Internet virtually unchallenged.
Badr, the young Emirates hacker who showed off his Internet skills
on condition only his first name was used, is evidence the system doesn't
work. Clicking his mouse, he moved through a series of sites and soon he's
looking at naked women and pornographic video images, complete with sound
Robert, a Lebanese who also insisted on using only his first name,
thwarts an Arab taboo almost as strong as that against pornography -
talking to enemy Israel.
"I spend two to three hours online (several times a week) chatting
with people in Israel. Its very interesting for me to exchange thoughts and
opinions with the people I was brought up to view as my enemies," said
Robert, a 24-year-old sales executive based in Dubai.
"We do exchange some tough words when some sort of violence erupts
in the region, but I think that is part of getting to know each other."
Qatar and Oman are the only Persian Gulf states with even fledgling
diplomatic ties to Israel. The other countries have no telecommunications
or mail links to the Jewish state, but e-mail via the Internet sidesteps
Qatar and Oman both try to block access to pornographic sites,
however, using such software as "Cyber Patrol" and "Net Nanny."
Kuwait's Communications Ministry is working on a system of blocking
access to proscribed Internet sites.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, one of the most conservative Muslim
countries, has yet to officially join the cyberspace age. It has set up a
committee to oversee the introduction, but - with the wide range of Saudi
taboos - few expect the Internet to soon enter everyday life in the kingdom.
Still, even in Saudi Arabia, people find ways to track down
scandalous Internet sites. Saudis who can afford it make long-distance
telephone calls to dial up Internet networks in other countries, mainly in
the Emirates and Bahrain, but also in Britain.
The problems of censorship grow with the Internet's popularity. The
Emirates' Etisalat has 20,000 subscribers and an estimated 100,000 users.
Internet cafes have opened in Oman and Qatar and in Dubai, one of the seven
states in the Emirates.
An official at Qatar Telecommunications Corp., speaking on
condition of anonymity to avoid offending government and religious leaders,
conceded that access to offensive material on the Internet could not be
completely blocked. But he insisted it could be controlled.
Others simply refuse to recognize the problem.
"Most of our customers come here for the fun of it," said Ali
Mohammed, manager at an Internet cafe in Qatar. "They are not interested in