Cyber Stewards Network partner Walid Al-Saqaf’s dissertation, titled “Breaking Digital Firewalls: Analyzing Internet Censorship and Circumvention in the Arab World,” was covered in a news story by Huffington Post this month. Al-Saqaf, an anti-censorship activist, journalist, and academic based at Sweden’s Örebro University, also directs YemenPortal, a news and online content aggregator. When the site was banned by Yemeni authorities, he started another website to circumvent this and centralize regional news at blocked.arabiaportal.net.
Al-Saqaf’s PhD research explored government Internet censorship during and after the Arab Spring, and how these restrictions have been bypassed by citizens. He also produced the “Alkasir” software (translated as “circumventer” in Arabic), allowing Yemenis to break through their online restrictions. It has the added ability of being able to map the censorship of particular URL’s by periodically checking if they are blocked. In this sense it measures the filtering of internet content and provides the relevant data.
Al-Saqaf’s investigation focused on Egypt, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen, where his research showed that the regimes had similar targets in times of political transit. Though activists are also considered threats, Al-Saqaf found that censorship efforts were primarily directed at everyday content generated by users on social media platforms.
Read Walid Al-Saqaf’s dissertation here (Örebro University).
Watch Walid Al-Saqaf’s presentation on Alkasir at TEDx Stockholm here.