Mainland Chinese looking for information on the situation in Egypt are having their efforts complicated, although not necessarily thwarted, by the country’s Internet censors. Users searching for words like ‘Egypt’ on micro-blog searches on portals like Sina.com have been finding no results being returned.
The reason is obvious—Chinese authorities don’t want their citizens getting any bright ideas from the unrest in Egypt. This isn’t the first time the censors have moved to clamp down on chatter relating to unrest. Back in 2009, the authorities ramped up controls following online discussions of events in Xinjiang, when clashes between police and Uyghurs in the restive Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in northwest China led to the deaths of almost 200 people in July.
In response to the heated online discussions that took place over the causes of the unrest, the government cut the Internet to Xinjiang for months. It’s been referred to as flicking the Internet kill switch, and is an approach quickly adopted by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in a (failed) effort to stop potential protesters organizing, including through social networking sites.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Interestingly, it’s not just Beijing’s leadership that has been looking at the implications of a kill switch—US policymakers have also been discussing one. Sens. Joseph Lieberman and Susan Collins have introduced legislation that would, as one report put it, hand ‘President Obama power over privately owned computer systems during a "national cyber emergency" and prohibit any review by the court system.’ This would allow the US Department of Homeland Security to effectively reroute, restrict or even stop Internet traffic in the United States. A kill switch in effect. The tricky—and worrying—thing could be, of course, how a cyber emergency was defined.
All this said, Chinese media hasn’t completely shunned coverage of what’s been happening in Egypt. Indeed it has been keen to use the unrest in Egypt as an example for citizens of what not to do.
The Global Times, for example, editorialized: ‘In general, democracy has a strong appeal because of the successful models in the West. But whether the system is applicable in other countries is in question, as more and more unsuccessful examples arise.
‘In the West, democracy is not only a political system, but a way of life. Yet some emerging democracies in Asia and Africa are taking hit after hit from street-level clamor.
‘Democracy is still far away for Tunisia and Egypt. The success of a democracy takes concrete foundations in economy, education and social issues.’
The message here is clear—you might get democracy in some unspecified and uncertain future. But in the meantime be patient, and let’s all focus on economic growth and social harmony. And don’t worry yourselves about what’s going on in unpredictable and chaotic Egypt…