CAIRO – In recent months, the Egyptian government has arrested or jailed several people for posting comments on Facebook that it considered inflammatory. Now, it seems, the government and some lawmakers are going after Facebook itself.

Parliamentary speaker Ali Abdel-Al has called for new legislation to “control the excesses” of Facebook. Another lawmaker, Gamal Abdel Nasser, wrote in a statement this week that “people who use Facebook to write highly dangerous things to our national security should be arrested.”

Hours later, an arrest warrant was issued for  journalist Khaled el-Balshi. His crime? Allegedly insulting the interior ministry, inciting protests and conspiring to overthrow the government – all because of comments he posted on Facebook and Twitter, Balshi said.

 

In his statement, Abdel Nasser also demanded that the interior and telecommunications ministries work on limiting Facebook.

The government already has been active in this regard. Egypt blocked Facebook’s "Free Basics" Internet service program at the end of last year after the company refused to give authorities access to user accounts, according to a Reuters report. Free Basics offers limited Internet access to people in 37 developing countries.

Facebook Basics provided a means of "uncontrolled communication available to everyone without even surveillance, which means less control over that medium” activist Wael Eskandar said.

According to Facebook, more than 3 million Egyptians used the service before it was banned, though the main site and app are still available. “This surveillance isn’t enough, they can’t track down every opposition voice so this is an attempt to curb it,” Eskandar said.

As part of a crackdown on dissent, security forces arrested two people for managing Facebook pages that authorities alleged were inciting action against the state and calling for protests days before the fifth anniversary of Egypt’s Arab Spring revolution. And only a week ago, an appeals court upheld a three-year prison sentence for poet and journalist Fatma Naoot for a Facebook post that called the ceremonial slaughter of sheep during a Muslim holiday “the most horrible massacre committed by humans.”

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