Users' initiatives to block Web sites

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An Arabic Web site called Ehjeb (Arabic for the verb "to block") is becoming increasingly popular especially in Web forums. The site, still in beta version, offers to facilitate blocking of web sites by sending URLs of questionable Web sites submitted by users to the censors in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Qatar, and Yemen, all of which already filter various Internet content pervasively. The site promises to add more countries to its list. The site offers the service free of charge and it uses Islamic expressions, which implies that the motive behind the initiative is religious. The site also offers customized banners and encourages Web sites to place them on their sites and blogs to promote the initiative. The Arabic text in the banners says, "Help us block access to bad sites".

Some Arab Internet users in some North African countries where there is no social filtering have also organized online campaigns to demand filtering of sexually explicit content. In Egypt and Algeria for example, there are online user-organized campaigns (e.g., http://www.as4ev.com/egy) protesting the accessibility to pornography online (ISPs in Egypt and Algeria do not block access to online pornography). Participants in these campaigns disseminate desktop filtering software, some of which were developed and/or customized by the users themselves, and also research on the impact of online pornography on societies in general and on Arab youth in particular.

Just this week, a prominent Saudi scholar of Islam, Sheikh Mohammed Al-Munjid, demanded (Arabic) that ISPs in Saudi Arabia use in their blockpages verses from the Quran that prohibit pornography, instead of the standard message that read: "Dear User, sorry the requested page is unavailable." The Sheikh said placing Quranic texts in the blockpage will discourage the Muslim users from attempting to access porn by reminding them that they are not supposed to do so according to Islam.

The users' efforts to limit access to Web content seem to target sexually explicit content and they come amid an increase in the availability of Arabic sexually explicit content online, and also amid reports that many users in Arabic countries do try to access blocked content. See ONI Middle East and North Africa regional overview.

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