In China, 'Egypt' and 'Cairo' have vanished
Imagine typing "Egypt" or "Cairo" into a Web portal's search engine and seeing no stories about the massive protests in Egypt over the past week. That's what's happening in China right now. It's a sign that the Chinese government fears the democratic movement brewing in the Middle East could cross continents and reach China.
On Sunday, "Egypt" and "Cairo" were removed from popular Chinese Web sites such as Sina.com and Sohu.com, according to Reuters. Sina.com and Sohu.com are as popular in China as Twitter is in the United States. Searches with the word 'Egypt' have produced messages saying search results could not be found.
Besides their authoritarian systems, China and Egypt share some similarities when it comes to Internet use. About one-third of each nation's population uses the Web. (That's 450 million people in China, and nearly 27 million people in Egypt.)
But one striking difference is that Internet freedom has been much greater in Egypt, and democracy advocates have made use of it. Digital platforms have emerged as safe havens in a society that otherwise restricts free speech and the media. Egyptians have had fairly open discussions online about politics and the Mubarak regime.
With the notable exception of the past week, the Egyptian government does not routinely block social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. China does. Chinese activists who want to use Twitter route their Internet connection through foreign servers.
But on top of that, China in recent days has attempted to control coverage of Egypt in the online and mainstream media. In addition to blocking the words "Egypt" and "Cairo" from search engines, the government has reportedly encouraged newspapers to base their discussions of events in Egypt on clips from the Xinhua state news agency.
The Global Times, a tabloid newspaper published by China's Communist Party, ran an editorial on its English-language Web site that said: "When it comes to political systems, the western model is only one of a few options. It takes time and effort to apply democracy to different countries, and to do so without the turmoil of revolution," the article said.
China should know better. Using the Internet to silence people, as demonstrated by Egypt's government-orchestrated Internet blackout over the weekend, can lead to chaos, violence and the overthrow of governments. The United States condemned Egypt for closing off Internet access but has not addressed China's latest move to block searches on Sina.com and Sohu.com. As Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a speech last month, "countries or individuals that engage in cyber-attacks should face consequences and international condemnation." America's silence on China's Internet censorship should not be tolerated, either.
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