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No decision yet on Whatsapp and Viber ban: Egyptian minister

Egypt still studying possible ban of free calling and messaging applications for security and financial reasons, says communications minister

Ahram Online, Wednesday 18 Sep 2013
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Egypt has not made a decision on whether to ban smartphone applications Whatsapp and Viber, Communications Minister Atef Helmy said on Tuesday.

Speaking by telephone to host Gaber El-Armooty, on ONTV’s 'Manchettes' programme on Tuesday, Helmy denied reports that authorities had already decided to ban the popular free messaging and international calling tools.

“I have to be clear: I said no decision has been made at all with regards to banning Viber and Whatsapp," said Helmy, “because some people said we'd already made a decision, which caused some disturbances.”

In June, Head of the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (NTRA) Amr Badawy told Ahram Online that a committee had been formed to monitor the mobile applications to decide whether to ban them, allow their users free usage or restrict them somehow.

Badawy cited both security and financial concerns as being behind the initiative. "These applications allow subscribers to make free calls, messages and share files while their sources remain unknown. Pre-paid applications will face losses," he explained.

“There are several dimensions to the matter, social as well as economic, but regarding national security … I am sure no citizen would accept that we do not take the appropriate decision,” said Helmy on Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia banned the use of Viber earlier this year, a web-based communication application, for being difficult to monitor by the state and for harming the revenues of telecom companies.

"The Viber application has been suspended ... and the (regulator) affirms it will take appropriate action against any other applications or services if they fail to comply with regulatory requirements and rules in force in the kingdom," said the Saudi Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) at the time.

Mobile penetration in Egypt is 116 percent, with around 94 million subscriptions. United Arab Emirates-based Etisalat’s Egypt subsidiary is the only mobile operator to have its own international gateway license, with competitors Egyptian Company for Mobile Services (Mobinil) and Vodafone Egypt relying on state-owned Telecom Egypt for their international gateway services.

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