Beyond Infrastructure: Egypt’s Approaches to Internet Governance


In the 1990s, the Internet’s broad expansion began. It evolved from a project initially restricted to the United States Department of Defense and a select group of academics in American universities to a commercial endeavor with limitless possibilities. The Internet, once inaccessible to anyone outside the official controlling establishment, has since experienced a remarkable transformation.

During the latter half of that decade, the advent of the Internet as an unprecedented communication medium garnered global attention. Many nations grew increasingly concerned about this medium’s potential threats, despite its promises of advancements. They felt it was expanding and evolving beyond their control.

This was the main motive behind the launching of an international initiative by the United Nations. This initiative aimed to set up a series of meetings with various stakeholders. These meetings provided a platform for discussions on the operational aspects of the Internet. The main goal was to discuss the different issues and reach a common ground for promoting the growth of the network in a direction that serves all parties in a balanced way.

As a developing country, Egypt was since then, and still is, highly interested in the Internet and in information and communication technology (ICT) in general. Egypt’s primal approach toward the Internet has first been related to its developmental potential. With time, however, domestic and foreign security concerns have taken the lead, so interest in Internet Governance has become focused on the content published through it.

The Egyptian case has many special characteristics. Among these are the nature of the political regime and the bureaucratic traditions of its governmental apparatus. In addition to the size of the Egyptian market, the geographic location, and its importance to global communication networks. All these characteristics, in addition to the political, social, and economic developments in the last two decades, contribute in different proportions to shaping the Egyptian experience in dealing with Internet Governance, reaching the current status.

This paper aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the Egyptian state’s approach to Internet Governance over the past three decades, spanning from the latter half of the 1990s to the present. Throughout this period, the Internet has undergone significant transformations, becoming an integral part of daily life for people worldwide. Concurrently, Egyptian society and its state have also experienced notable changes.

The paper delves into the connection between the Egyptian state and Internet Governance, exploring it through several key dimensions. These dimensions include the general dynamics of this relationship, Egypt’s engagement on the international stage, the critical issues in Internet Governance and Egypt’s position on them, as well as Egypt’s internal practices pertaining to Internet Governance.

General Characteristics of Egypt’s Approach to Internet Governance

The developmental approach

As a developing country, the main project for Egypt in the 1990s was to push the development wheel as far as possible. This approach led to the establishment of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) in 1999.

The first developmental phase of Egypt’s approach to ICT was characterized by encouraging the private sector to work in the field of providing these services. One of the aspects of this encouragement was that the national company, Telecom Egypt, refrained from entering the field of providing mobile phone services at the time so that private sector companies could have fair competition conditions in these markets.

Up until now, the state has maintained control over the communications sector by monopolizing the implementation and ownership of communications infrastructure. To achieve this control, the state has relied on Telecom Egypt. Consequently, the private sector has to lease the right to use the infrastructure from Telecom Egypt.

The second main developmental characteristic at the time was pushing strongly to spread the use of the Internet as widely as possible. In this area, the government sponsored many initiatives, most notably an initiative for providing free Internet access. This initiative allowed every landline telephone subscriber to access the Internet through dial-up numbers only at telephone call fees rate.

During a period characterized by pricey internet service, restricted speeds, and low usage limits provided by different companies, this innovation eliminated the necessity for users to subscribe to the internet independently. This pivotal change significantly accelerated the growth of Internet accessibility in Egypt within a short span of time, leading to a substantial increase in the number of individuals able to access the Internet as the new millennium approached.

Technical approach

The dominance of a technical approach focused on infrastructure in the Egyptian state’s handling of the ICT sector can be attributed to several factors. A significant factor is the historical experience of the Egyptian bureaucracy in the field of communications, particularly in telephone service.

The other factor was the obsolescence of telephone communication networks in Egypt at the time. Modernization and replacement of these networks was one of the main Egyptian government concerns. Accordingly, infrastructure projects consumed a large portion of the available financial and human resources. Also, the private sector was only allowed a very limited contribution in this field, so the state shouldered its burden on its own.

This was reflected in the Egyptian interests related to its international activities. Among these was seeking to obtain financial and technical support for developing countries to modernize their infrastructure to meet the demands of the new communications and information technologies.

Security approach

The Internet as a communication means, since the beginning of its expansion into Egypt, was never out of the security agencies’ eyes. Their interest has grown considerably since the second half of the first decade of the millennium. This was contemporaneous with the large expansion of Internet use in Egypt and with the advent of Web 2.0, and interactive web applications such as forums, blogs, and later social media networks.

This went in parallel with an increasing activity of the political opposition in Egypt. Many started resorting to the Internet as a freer area for expression of thought and opinion, especially that is in opposition to the ruling regime. The activity of regime opposition through the Internet reached its climax on the eve of the January 2011 Revolution.

The growing influence of the Internet coincided with the rise in political opposition in Egypt Many individuals turned to the Internet as a more liberated platform to voice their thoughts and opinions. This trend culminated in the internet being utilized as a primary tool for regime opposition, reaching its peak on the eve of the January 2011 Revolution.

Social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter had an undeniable role in calling for the demonstrations that took to the Egyptian cities’ streets on 25th January 2011. This led the Egyptian government to cut Internet and mobile phone services almost completely on Friday, January 28th, with the escalation of demonstrations in the different Egyptian governorates.

In the aftermath of the January 2011 Revolution, the security approach has become the most prominent in the Egyptian state’s policies concerning the Internet. It can be said that this approach controls the legislative and executive approaches of the state.

Imposing censorship and surveillance on the Internet is the main characteristic of the Egyptian state’s policies at the current time. Whether this was accomplished under or out of the law. The Egyptian government also uses the help of big international tech companies to obtain the most advanced surveillance, information system breaching (including personal computers and mobile phones), and website blocking applications and software.

Egypt’s Role in the International Process of Internet Governance

Among developing nations, Egypt stands out as one of the most actively engaged in international conferences and forums on Internet Governance. This began in the preparation stage for the World Summit for Information Society (WSIS) in 2003. It continued with periodic participation in the annual meeting of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF).

World Summit for Information Society (WSIS)

The United Nations offered the idea of a world summit for information society in 1998. It took several years for the summit to be agreed upon, then its date was set to 2003. There has been a preparation process for the summit that included several regional meetings to coordinate positions over the issues that should be raised and discussed.

Egypt participated actively in the preparation phase by taking part in the regional preparatory meeting for African countries. At the same time, Egypt took the initiative to invite Arab countries to have their own preparatory meeting to coordinate their positions. The meeting was convened in Cairo on the ministerial level in June 2003 and resulted in the Cairo Declaration that included a joint working plan for Arab countries concerning cooperation in Internet Governance.

Egypt participated with a large envoy in the first stage of the summit that was held in Geneva. It also participated later in the second stage, whose meetings were held in 2005 in Tunisia. This last stage produced the Tunis Declaration as well as the Internet Governance Forum.

The major points that were of interest to the Egyptian government at the time were: the development of infrastructure, training of human resources technically qualified for working in the ICT sector, electronic government, and promoting Arabic content on the Internet. Focusing on these points was iterated repeatedly in most of the related documents issued by the Egyptian government in successive years.

Internet Governance Forum (IGF)

Egypt participates consistently in the annual meeting of the IGF. Additionally, Egypt has taken part in founding the regional Internet Governance forums of Africa, the Arab World, and the North Africa region.

Egypt hosted the meeting of the IGF in its fourth year in Sharm El-Shiekh, in November 2009. This forum was the first to discuss the issues related to social media websites. It described them then as “have grown tremendously in the last few years,” and “have become crucial for reaching a large audience.”

Egypt also hosted the first meeting of the North Africa Internet Governance Forum in Sharm El-Shiekh, in December 2017.

Egyptian Stance on Main Internet Governance Issues

The Multistakeholder Model for Internet Governance

One of the issues for many countries, especially developing ones with the multistakeholder model, is that it requires persistent and active participation in many forums. Most developing countries lack the financial and technical resources required to participate in all or most of these forums effectively. This means depriving them of the opportunity to defend their interests and views concerning Internet Governance issues.

On the other hand, Western countries, especially the United States, have obvious advantages within this model. These countries have the required resources for active participation in Internet Governance forums. Most of the time, the interests of these countries and the views they adopt in these forums are presented both by their official envoys as well as by many of the private sector representatives.

Lack of resources is not the only issue of the multistakeholder model. Another issue that many parties encounter, especially civil society, is that this model allows Big Tech companies to wield much power over the international decision-making process related to Internet Governance. This means that many of these decisions may serve the interests of these companies, which in many cases conflict with the interests defended by governments or civil society organizations. When it comes to the latter, much of what they defend is related to defending the interests of the Internet users themselves through defending the freedom of the Internet and guaranteeing its openness.

Many countries, including Egypt, think that ideally Internet Governance should be handled by an international independent entity or one within the United Nations framework like the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). In such an entity, which would include only states’ representatives, each state would have one vote. There would also be no direct roles in decision making for other parties. However, such an alternative threatens the freedom of the Internet, as it gives to many authoritarian regimes a large impact on the decision determining how the network works.

For Egypt, the resources required for participating in Internet forums effectively is not a big problem. Thus, in many cases, Egypt had supported the multistakeholder model. For example, Egypt participated in founding the Arab Internet Governance Forum in 2012, which is considered one of the regional forums extending the IGF.

The 5th Arab Internet Governance Forum was held in Egypt. The National Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (NTRA), the ESCWA, and the Arab League cooperated in organizing the meeting.

On the other hand, as a developing country, and due to the nature of its ruling regime, Egypt tends to favor the traditional model for managing international relations through official representatives. Egypt was among the countries advocating for an expanded role for the ITU in Internet Governance, a proposal that Western countries oppose

Cyber sovereignty

The concept of Cyber Sovereignty seeks to expand the concept of state sovereignty to cyberspace. This means that a state should have sovereignty over the activities practiced within its territory by its citizens and residents as long as they affect its national security in one way or another.

This concept is implemented through legislation and the practice of different policies. In the last decade, the Egyptian approach adopted the concept of cyber sovereignty through legislation as well as through the policies the government followed, though Egypt never stated this explicitly in any official documents.

One of the most important features of implementing cyber sovereignty is controlling the geographic location of devices and equipment used for storing data. More clearly, countries practicing this concept seek to keep their citizens’ data physically inside their territories so that they have required jurisdiction for dealing with it when needed and to guarantee that no sensitive data is leaked.

Egypt implements this concept through the provisions of the Personal Data Protection Law, which obligates all entities gathering, processing, and/or storing data inside Egypt not to share it with any abroad party without prior approval from the competent authorities.

Domestic Internet Governance in Egypt

The Egyptian state takes exclusive control over setting and implementing policies related to Internet Governance within Egypt, absent any tangible role for other stakeholders except in a consultative capacity. NTRA is currently the official body with the most authority over issues related to Internet Governance in Egypt. 

On the other hand, the direct role of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology has diminished a lot, though still tangible, especially when it comes to publishing relevant strategies and working plans.

The main tools used by the Egyptian state for directing and regulating the operation of the Internet inside Egypt are legislation. This works through legislating relevant laws for regulating issues of telecommunication, data, information, and different activities practiced on the Internet, especially financial transactions and trade.  NTRA also plays a large role in issuing regulatory frameworks for relevant business fields, including establishing and operating data centers.

The legal environment related to Internet Governance has witnessed a great evolution since 2003, when the Telecommunications Regulation Law was issued. Later, other laws were issued that were especially directed at regulating the activities practiced on the Internet. Also, different law amendments were issued that expanded their provisions to cover the activities practiced on the Internet. In the following, the paper reviews some of the most important of these laws.

  • Law No. 10/2003 regulating telecommunications: This law has established the National Telecommunication Regulatory Authority, and determined its competencies, prerogatives, and board formation. NTRA has later become the body dominating most of the Internet Governance relevant activities.
  • Law No. 15/2004 regulating electronic signature and establishing the Information Technology Industry Development Agency: The law stipulated that the board of the agency includes representatives of both the ministries of Defense and Interior, in addition to a representative of the General Intelligence. The executive regulations of the law were issued by a decision of the Minister of Communication and Information Technology no, 109/2005.
  • Law No. 175/2018 concerning combating information technology crimes: The law, also known as the Cybercrime law, is considered the most controversial among laws related to Internet activities in Egypt. The provisions of the law include articles that give investigating authorities the power to block websites and oblige service providers to collect and retain user data. This is in addition to the presence of articles that are widely and inappropriately applied to Internet users, such as the crime of administrating a website or account to commit a crime and the crime of violating family values. The executive regulations of the law were issued by the Prime Minister’s decision no. 1699/2018.
  • Law No. 180/2018 regulating the press and media: Although the law is concerned with regulating the press and media, it intersects with the activities of individuals on the Internet. The Law’s provisions include subjecting individuals’ personal accounts on social media websites to the media regulations laws if they have 5000 or more followers. This means that owners of such accounts may be prosecuted by law for charges like publishing false news, which by the identification of the law includes any news that conflicts with official statements. The law also allows blocking websites as an administrative penalty for violating its provisions. The executive regulations of the law were issued by the Prime Minister’s decision no. 418/2020.
  • Law No. 151/2020, concerning personal data protection: This law regulates the processes of gathering, storing, and processing personal data. The law sets legal obligations for the entities responsible for these activities and sets various penalties in case its provisions are violated. The executive regulations of the law haven’t been issued yet, which renders it suspended as a large number of the procedural aspects of the law were delegated to the executive regulations.

In addition to these laws, there are practices of the Egyptian executive agencies related to activities on the Internet. As an example, the Egyptian Taxes Authority has announced subjecting selling and buying goods and services online by individuals, as well as videos, audio, and text content creation activities to income and VAT taxes. The authority has also obliged practitioners of these activities to get Tax Cards and to submit periodic tax reports as per the laws.

The National Telecommunication Regulatory Authority

The National Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (NTRA) was established as per the Telecommunications Regulation Law. Article (3) of the law explains that it works under the supervision of the competent minister, meaning the Minister of Communications and Information Technology. While Articles (4-6) explain the objectives, prerogatives, and competencies of the authority.

In general, NTRA has comprehensive authority over the management of telecommunications within Egypt. Concerning Internet Governance, NTRA sets and implements the rules for licensing Internet service providers as well as for manufacturing, importing, or using relevant devices or equipment, besides several other prerogatives and competencies.

Articles (12) and (13) of the Telecommunications Law explain the formation, prerogatives and competencies of the NTRA’s Board. The competent minister heads the board and chooses the executive manager of it. The board includes a representative of the Ministry of Defense chosen by its minister and four representatives of the National Security Agency, General Intelligence, Military Intelligence, and National Security Authority.

The direct presence of security agencies on the board, in addition to the vast powers it possesses in managing NTRA, through which it exerts influence over domestic communications activities, reflects the Egyptian state’s overarching approach towards the securitization of telecommunications management, information technology, and Internet Governance. This approach effectively gives security agencies the final say in these management processes.


This paper has sought to draw a general view of the Egyptian state’s approach toward Internet Governance. The paper discussed the most important characteristics of this approach and discussed the Egyptian activity and role on the international stage of Internet Governance. The paper also discussed some of the aspects of the Egyptian state’s use of legislation and executive policies to deal with Internet Governance.

It can be said that the Egyptian state’s approach toward Internet Governance has two major aspects. The first is developmental, focusing on developing ICT infrastructure and training technical cadres capable of performing the different ICT-related jobs. The second is related to security and it seeks to limit the space of free expression of opinion opposing the ruling regime through the Internet, especially through social media websites, as well as controlling the content accessible to Egyptian citizens by websites blocking processes especially oppositions and independent websites.

It is undeniable that the conflict between these two aspects can be avoided or circumvented. In actual practice, it is clear that in conflict cases the security view prevails over the developmental one, leading to the obstruction of many efforts made to support the growth of the ICT sector in Egypt. Nevertheless, this sector continues to be the highest in growth rates among the Egyptian economy sectors, which emphasizes the large potential for maximizing growth in case a better balance is struck between the real security needs of the state and the developmental needs related to Internet Governance.

In a related context, legislative and executive practices of the Egyptian state concerning Internet Governance constitute a smothering environment for digital rights especially the right to free speech, and the right to access to information, in addition to allowing ample opportunities for violating the right to privacy through surveillance practices.