CAIRO: Al-Ahram officials have denied claims that the institution intentionally blocked certain Web sites as a form of censorship, blaming a system crash for the misunderstanding.
Earlier this month, news circulated that the publishing house had blocked several opposition Web sites, including the increasingly popular and controversial Web logs (blogs). All sites tied to the search engine blogger.com were reportedly blocked.
Last week, the havoc ended with a reversal of the alleged block. The Arabic Network of Human Rights Information (HRinfo), which described the block as a strike against press freedom in Egypt, welcomed the reversal.
This is a serious and erroneous procedure, especially when it is practiced by a press foundation such as Al-Ahram. Such an action is in contradiction with the supposed role of the foundation, said Gamal Eid, executive director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (HRinfo), when the decision was first introduced. We hope that the foundation will correct this procedure and uphold press freedom and the right of journalists to exchange information.
Many expressed concern over the possibility that journalists working for the state-run institution, which publishes the widely circulated Arabic daily Al-Ahram, wouldn t have access to other points of view, specifically the opposition. Denying them access to blogs, which now act as independent voices reporting events without the influence of institutional ideologies, was also seen as detrimental.
Such concerns were echoed by some of the institution s staff. “They blocked Web sites that help us in work, Sayed Aly, assistant editor in chief and columnist in Al-Ahram told The Daily Star Egypt last week. It s as if the institution is punishing itself. Aly had observed the block and the reversal, he says.
But according to Omar Samy, manager of Internet networking at Al-Ahram, what was reported as a block was in fact merely a system crash.
There is no such thing as blocking Web sites because of political, social or ideological reasons, he explains. He says the institution s network system is only programmed to block access to Web sites associated with heavy downloading and pornography.
Due to a system crash, he continues, the network returned to its default setting, in which some Web sites, including bloggers.com were not allowed. This is what caused the misunderstanding, he says.
Samy returned The Daily Star Egypt s calls after a week’s interval, saying he had been on vacation. After the reversal was announced, some anticipated Al-Ahram would deny that the block had ever been in force.