Arab Governments Against Freedom Of Expression-Does It Even Exist In The Arab World?

Sameera Ehteram
We never had any illusions about Arab governments being tolerant of Free speech. Then why are we surprised every time a headline like that crosses our sight?


These are the few recent headlines:

Palestinian jailed for Facebook like

Saudi Arabia 'may end' Twitter user anonymity

Kuwait online activist jailed for Twitter posts

'Egypt’s Jon Stewart' arrested by Muslim Brotherhood prosecutors

We never had any illusions about Arab governments being tolerant of Free speech. Then why are we surprised every time a headline like that crosses our sight?

Because, in this day and age, it is rather unimaginable.

The knowledge of truth should be a right, however, in many cases, especially in the Arab world, it is a privilege. Rather, freedom of expression, including that of the press is nonexistent.

Online media and social networks played a significant role in the Arab Spring and will be important factors in determining the direction of these societies post revolutions.

A positive contribution of the media to the consolidation of democratic systems requires a dismantling of the old restricted and even controlled media, a reform of journalistic institutions, and a change of pattern in the concept as well as practice of journalism.  This however, is sadly, not the case.



According to Reporters Without Borders, freedom of the press in the Arab region, on the whole, declined last year.

Out of the 18 Arab countries included in the poll, 11 posted a drop from last year. In the list released January 25, the press-freedom organization said although the Arab world was the motor of history in 2011, the Arab uprisings have had contrasting political outcomes so far.

Syria was ranked 176 out of 179 countries, beating only Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea, which  landed last place in terms of press freedom. Bahrain was 173rd while Yemen came in at 171st place.

Last year, Syria was 173, Bahrain came in at 144 and Yemen was 170.

Libya moved higher to 154 from 160 last year and Egypt moved lower to 166 from 127. Tunisia moved higher to 134 from 164, the biggest jump higher across the Arab nations.

The United Arab Emirates moved lower to 112st place from 87th place last year.

Saudi Arabia made 158th place from 157th.


Freedom of expression and a free media are fundamental building blocks of democracy, and the gateway to the realization of many other human rights. Freedom of expression allows space for challenge and innovation; supports transparency and deters corruption; exposes human rights violations; and ensures that people can exchange ideas and make informed decisions.

Freedom of expression, including on the internet needs to be free rather than restricted if any positive outcomes are to be expected in the region. How that will be brought about, however stays a mystery.

UNESCO has planned a 2.3 million Euros plan for a project in the Arab region to strengthen the legal and regulatory frameworks contributing to to freedom of expression and ensure the safety of journalists and bloggers.

How successful the plan will be remains to be seen. But hopes of course, are for the best!