Egyptian court bans YouTube over anti-Islam film

youtubeThe fallout of last year’s controversial video “The Innocence of Muslims” continues; Egypt has banned YouTube as a result of the ongoing outrage the anti-Islam film has provoked.

The ban, which is temporary and expected to last 30 days, was ordered by Judge Hassouna Tawfiq after a lawsuit claimed the video posed a threat to Egyptian national security. In his decision, Tawfiq said that YouTube had “insisted on broadcasting the film insulting Islam and the Prophet, [in the process] disrespecting the beliefs of millions of Egyptians and disregarding the anger of all Muslims.”

The court’s decision requires Egypt’s National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority to shut down access to the site for a thirty day period, although neither the NTRA nor Google believe an official order has been sent to that effect yet. The ruling is open to appeal, and some believe that it may not even be enforced depending on circumstance.

The ruling has been hailed as a step back in censorship within the country, with many pointing to a 2007 decision by an Egyptian court to block 49 separate human rights websites that were vetoed by an administrative court. Amr Gharbeia, civil liberties director for the Egyptian Institute for Personal Rights told the Guardian that the new ruling “is certainly a backwards step compared to what the court ruled [in 2007],” going on to suggest that public reaction to the ban may mean that many Egyptians “lose respect for the the rule of law.”

Gharbeia hasn’t lost faith in the system, however. He suggests that the ruling may not necessarily be representative of the Egyptian legal system as a whole, but instead invokes the traditionally-American idea of the “activist Judge”: “It’s very possible that the judge is acting on his own will and conviction and really wants to protect the people of Egypt from something [he considers] evil,” he said. In that case, the possibility of another court either reversing or vetoing the decision altogether remains quite possible.

If the court were to order the NTRA to enforce the law, it remains unclear how successful the ban would end up being. Not only is thirty days a relatively short ban in the grand scheme of things, but there are a variety of workarounds to such a block on a particular website (Consider, in a similar situation, that 63.5 million users from China joined Facebook in 2012, despite the country’s ban on the site since 2009). Those who want to access YouTube during the enforced break will be able to do so, and those who aren’t quite so determined just have to wait a month for its return. Viewed in that light, does the ruling have any purpose beyond sabre-rattling?

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