This report investigates how adversarial relationships between states in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) translate into Internet censorship practices. Based on analysis of Internet censorship data collected from 16 countries, the study finds that it is becoming increasingly common for governments in the MENA region to block content that originates from or is affiliated with rival states in the region.
The study finds that blocked content often contains messaging that opposes the censoring government’s own narrative of the conflicts, and that governments block content that could potentially spark internal dissent. For example, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt block Iranian websites that promote Iran’s official narrative on local and foreign policies and that are critical of Saudi policies towards Iran and the region. On the other side of the conflict, Iran blocks content originating from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, and Egypt.
The study also finds evidence that, in specific instances, governments have prevented their own citizens from accessing commercial websites affiliated with their rival states as a way of hindering the commercial interests of their adversaries. For example, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which boycott Qatar, block the websites of Qatar’s national air carrier, Qatar Airways, and beIN sports, a Qatar-affiliated sports network with exclusive rights to air major European football competitions and the FIFA World Cup in the MENA region.