The Chinese government this week blocked Egypt-related searches on some widely-used websites, an indication, according to Chinese bloggers, of the authorities' unease at Internet users spreading information about the protests in Egypt.
Keyword searches for the Chinese characters for “Egypt” was blocked on Weibo, China's equivalent of Twitter, after many Internet users began posting messages on the recent events, some comparing them to the student protests at Tiananmen Square in 1989. Searches were also blocked on two popular portals, Sina and Netease.
The authorities did not, however, censor content discussing the protests. China's official media reported on the events. While the state media, including newspapers like the People's Daily and Global Times, tended to “demonise” the protesters as rioters and looters, the reaction online was markedly different, noted Michael Anti, a well-known Chinese blogger and media commentator.
“Many netizens have compared the Egypt situation to the events in Tiananmen Square 22 years ago, and expressed support for the protesters,” he said. The decision to restrict searches on Egypt, he added, reflected the government's unease at being compared to authoritarian states.
While today's economically-resurgent China is much removed from the days of 1989 or even the situation in Egypt, authorities have routinely expressed concern over the destabilising potential of the Internet.
China, which has the world's biggest online community with more than 475 million Internet users, employs a vast censorship apparatus. While the authorities no longer widely restrict access to outside information, recently opening up blocked websites such as Wikipedia, the government has voiced particular anxiety over the impact of social media, restricting access to information-sharing websites like Twitter and Facebook.
State-run newspapers, meanwhile, warned in editorials this week that protests would only bring chaos. The English-language Global Times wrote in an editorial that “colour revolutions will not bring about real democracy”. “In general, democracy has a strong appeal because of the successful models in the West. But whether the system is applicable in other countries is in question, as more and more unsuccessful examples arise,” said the editorial.
Some emerging economies in Asia and Africa, it added, were “taking hit after hit from street-level clamour”.