Egypt is cracking down on dissident news websites among them the Muslim Brotherhood but opponents to the move say it is a step by the government to censor all that isn’t the state-run media.

The government has countered and stated that they’re banning sites that express support for terrorism. The media flourished in the final years of President Hosni Mubarak’s rule. But those days seem long ago now.

Journalists see the campaign against them as a step toward banning all but the most state-aligned media, effectively reversing the private media boom that flourished in the final decade of former president Hosni Mubarak’s rule and which they say helped push him from power in 2011.

Though no precise figures on readership are available, Egypt enjoys an active private media that includes widely read print and web format publications as well as popular late-night talk shows. State newspapers still maintain wide circulation.

The spike in censorship has come as a surprise, even to journalists long-accustomed to reporting within strict red lines in Egypt where direct criticism of the military, the president, and judiciary are considered taboo and punishable by jail time.

The government has offered no comment on the reason behind the blockages and the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology had no immediate comment.

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Makram Mohamed Ahmed, head of the newly formed Supreme Media Council, a state media regulator, told Reuters he believes “the main reason is how much [these websites] deal with the Muslim Brotherhood or express support for terrorism,” referring to the Islamist group whose president Mohamed Mursi held office for a year before being ousted in 2013 by the military after mass protests.

But the blockages have also hit Mada Masr, a self-described progressive outlet with no Islamist ties, as well as the widely read Al-Borsa, a financial newspaper favored by the largely pro-government business community.

“If they did something more grave like arresting team members or me it would make big noise, whereas blocking the website is the best way to paralyze us without paying a high price for it,” Lina Atallah, editor of Mada Masr, told Reuters.

Some journalists say a presidential election in 2018 means Egypt is doubling down on press restrictions, a move intended to ensure opposition candidates have few spaces to challenge general-turned-president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is widely expected to run for a second term.

“There are people getting ready to nominate themselves for the presidency and they have to make their voices heard or else they won’t be competitive,” said Adel Sabry, the editor-in-chief of Masr al-Arabia, a website blocked last month.

“[The goal] is that it’s just one voice,” said editor-in-chief of Al-Borsa, Hussein Abd Rabo, who said his paper could be closed any day.

The situation there will have to be monitored closely as the government continues to crack down on what they characterize as terrorist sympathizers. The good news is that SOFREP was not among those news sites that have been banned.

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Photo courtesy Reuters