KeepItOn 2023 MENA

MENA in 2023: internet shutdowns soar amid unprecedented violence and war

للقراءة بالعربية

Content note: The following post contains references to violence and war crimes.

By almost every measure, 2023 was the worst year of internet shutdowns on record. Authorities deliberately interrupted the internet at least 283 times in 39 countries concealing, enabling, and exacerbating violence, war crimes, attacks on democracy, and other atrocities, crushing the human rights of millions of people. 

Launching today, May 15, Access Now and the #KeepItOn coalition’s new report, Shrinking democracy, growing violence: Internet shutdowns in 2023, exposes the unparalleled impact and destruction of these brutal attacks on human rights throughout a dangerous year of extremes. Read the full report, global snapshot, and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) deepdive.

The year 2023 was one of sheer devastation invoked and intensified by internet shutdowns. Last year’s repeated internet blocks in the Middle East and North Africa were targeted attacks on human rights, shielding abuse in conflict, suppressing freedom of expression, and holding up an opaque barrier between the region and the world’s eyes. Authorities must put an end to this archaic, harmful practice. Felicia Anthonio, #KeepItOn Campaign Manager at Access Now

Key regional findings include:

  • The worst year on record: authorities implemented at least 77 internet shutdowns in 15 countries across the MENA region — the highest annual number of both shutdown incidents and perpetrators on record since 2016;
  • The violence: weaponizing internet access during armed conflicts to control information flows and conceal crimes, warring parties shut down the internet at least 18 times in Palestine and Sudan;
  • The escalating scale: Iran shut down the internet 34 times in protest crackdowns — a jump from 19 shutdowns in 2022 — and Israel shut down the internet in Palestine 16 times during its war on Gaza endangering millions under siege;
  • The broadening scope: Libya and Türkiye blocked the internet during devastating natural disasters that claimed tens of thousands of lives; 
  • The ongoing patterns: authorities in Iraq, Syria, Algeria, and Iran imposed a total of 10 shutdowns during school exams;
  • The targeting: the Grindr app was blocked in Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Türkiye, and United Arab Emirates; and
  • The positives: Jordan and Mauritania — countries that have previously implemented exam shutdowns — appear to be making concerted effort to find rights-respecting alternatives.
From Sudan to Iran, internet shutdowns have become synonymous with bloodshed, suffering, and turmoil across the MENA region. In Gaza, people have compared internet blockings to falling bombs, and they too can be fatal when access to life-saving information and contact with family members and loved ones is decimated. Marwa Fatafta, MENA Policy and Advocacy Director at Access Now

In 2023, authorities and warring parties in the MENA region shut down the internet in: Algeria, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Türkiye, and United Arab Emirates.

Read the full report, global snapshot, and the Middle East and North Africa deepdive.