TV host Mohamed Al-Ghiety recent moderated a show discussing the pros and cons of a proposal to launch an "Egyptian Facebook," an idea endorsed by Egyptian Communications Minister Yasser ElKady. Muhammad Fadhel 'Ashour of the Nasserist Party opposed the idea of closing down the "international Facebook," saying that the only seven countries that have their own Facebook are dictatorships with no regard for human rights. Researcher Ahmad Gamal said that "there are many issues more important than freedom of speech, such as mining the data of Facebook users" by terrorist groups. Worse still, injected Al-Ghiety, "all your details go straight to the U.S. intelligence and the Mossad." The debate aired on LTC TV on March 13.
Mohamed Al-Ghiety: "The idea of creating an Egyptian Facebook has recently surfaced. It is well known that Egypt is the leading Arab country in terms of its use of Facebook, as well as Twitter. At least 50 million Egyptians – half of the population – use Facebook and Twitter. Communications Minister Yasser ElKady said: 'We are studying this, and the measures for creating an Egyptian Facebook will be made public soon.' This means that we will have control over the social media. Furthermore, the millions of dollars of revenue from our use of Facebook and the advertisements in it – it is in our interest to secure them for Egypt. Are there cases of countries that have done this? Yes. China has done it. [North] Korea has done it, obviously. Countries like Russia have launched their own private Facebook. Can we follow in the footsteps of these countries, and why should we?"
Muhammad Fadhel 'Ashour: "Unfortunately, the statement by the minister of communications came at a time of a tightened grip in public sphere. There are attempts to impose a policy of a single voice, and attempts to brand as a traitor anybody who holds a different view, or who expresses objective criticism of the regime and government members, regarding the neglect suffered by Egyptians citizens. Practically speaking, the idea of shutting down Facebook is impossible, because there are tools and methods enabling you to overcome this ban, and to use Facebook. There are only seven countries in the word that have banned Facebook. You said that there is Facebook in China, but that's not true. Those countries have resorted to banning Facebook completely."
Mohamed Al-Ghiety: "No, they have their own Facebook."
Muhammad Fadhel 'Ashour: "They took this step, but only after shutting down Facebook."
Mohamed Al-Ghiety: "So you're in favor of launching an Egyptian Facebook, but without closing the international one."
Muhammad Fadhel 'Ashour: "Yes. Any talk about losing... These seven countries – we're talking about China, Iran, Vietnam, Pakistan, North Korea, and lately, Turkey – are characterized by dictatorship, by a clear absence of human rights. We are talking about transparency, about permitting opposing views..."
Mohamed Al-Ghiety: "These examples are not one and the same..."
Muhammad Fadhel 'Ashour: "There are discrepancies, but..."
Ahmad Gamal: "Freedom of expression per se does not contradict the notion of launching our own Facebook for Egyptians. The idea of expressing our views freely is not related to this, because if we define freedom of speech as one of the problems preventing this... There are many issues more important than freedom of speech, such as mining the data of Facebook users. Terrorist groups have begun to obtain data, such as phone numbers and names..."
Mohamed Al-Ghiety: "It's even worse than that..."
Ahmad Gamal: "That's right."
Mohamed Al-Ghiety: "All your details go straight to the U.S. intelligence and the Mossad."
Ahmad Gamal: "Exactly."
Mohamed Al-Ghiety: "Your entire network, your WhatsApp, your chats, Messenger, and everything!"