Egypt As of July 3, President Mohamed Morsi is out of office, but much of the Western world is still not sure about what happened in Egypt and why. Was it a coup d'état or not? Wikipedia is calling it the “2013 Egyptian coup d'état,” but whether the term fits is being contested. Foreign Policy blogger Marya Hannun breaks down the Wikipedia edit war surrounding Morsi’s ousting. So-called wiki-wars over acceptable phraseology and editing have been waged before. Relatedly: viewing events in Egypt from a social media perspective offers valuable insight into how social media and networking sites, namely YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, factor into current political discourse and social change. For example, the opposition group, Tamarod, enlisted a range of media platforms to shape its campaign and gather more than 20 million signatures leading up to demonstration calling for Morsi’s removal.
Saudi Arabia The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is being criticized for harsh sentences recently handed down for seven cyber activists arrested in 2011 for Facebook posts. The men were accused of joining and using Facebook with the intention of starting protests. Political gatherings and public protests are prohibited in Saudi Arabia. The men were charged with crimes including illegal information gathering and “breaking allegiance with the king.” Abd al-Hamid al-Amer received 10 years in jail, the longest sentence. Other defendants—Ali Ali al-Hadlaq, Hussein Mohammed al-Bathir, Mostafa Hussein al-Mujahad, Mohammed Abd a-Hadi al-Khalifa, Hussein Yasin al-Sulayman, and Saleh Ali al-Shaya—received lesser sentences. The men also lost the right to travel freely within and outside the kingdom (rights that men are usually given freely in Saudi Arabia), and restrictions were placed on their future freedom of expression, including bans on public speaking and writing.
China On July 1, the Chinese government instituted an online petitioning system intended to update its centuries-old petitioning custom. The website is intended to enable citizens to post petitions and air grievances concerning issues such as forced evictions, pollution, or corruption. However, as soon as the site was launched, it crashed. The response was great enough—beyond government expectations and the website’s capacity—to result in a shutdown that sparked excited debate about the cause. Some Weibo users suggested the crash was an act of censorship. WeiboSuite, a platform created by students at Hong Kong University interested in Internet censorship, reports the government has been monitoring and removing citizens’ posts from the petition site. The official government response is that it underestimated response rates and the website was simply overwhelmed.
Pakistan A Lahore High Court has rejected an interim order to restore YouTube services across the country. Bytes for All, an NGO dedicated to ICTs for development, democracy, and social justice, filed the petition several months ago. In September 2012, the Pakistan People’s Party government banned the video-sharing site in response to widespread public outrage about the dissemination of a film deemed blasphemous for taking offensive positions against the Prophet. YouTube was banned after its parent company, Google, denied official requests to take down the film. Pakistan’s religious communities and members of the information technology sector remain deep in debate as to how the county will regulate the Internet so as to uphold Islamic values as well as citizen’s rights. Saad Rassol, a lawyer from Lahore, explains in a post for Pakistan Today, “It is not simply a question of whether YouTube should be unblocked because it serves an academic or social purpose. It is a question of whether we preserve individual freedoms, and discourse, even at the cost of being offended by the words of the speaker, from time to time. Or will we descend into becoming a society where subjective morality and religious sensitivities become a sword to silence tongues and stamp out all debate.”
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