Google is re-staffing its office in Cairo for the first time since a military coup in 2013 that brought President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to power in Egypt, media have reported.
The Intercept reported this week that the decision by Google to re-activate the Cairo office comes amid reports of the Egypt regime using various forms of mass surveillance to crackdown on activists in the country.
The American tech giant said the it would begin hiring full-time staff in Cairo following a meeting between Egyptian ministers and Google staff led by the head of Google MENA Lino Cattaruzzi, according to an Egyptian government press release in June. The office is set to open fully next month.
In 2011, a Facebook page co-run by then-Google executive Wael Ghonim became immensely popular with activists, with mass protests eventually leading to the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak.
Google left Egypt in 2013 a few months after the Sisi government’s massacre at sit-ins at Rabaa and Nahda squares led to the death of up to a thousand protesters.
Google’s permanent presence in Egypt has concerned human rights groups, who say that the company could be used by the Cairo government, which has a history of using data to surveillance to identify, monitor and disappear journalists, human rights advocates, and dissenters.
“Re-opening an office in Egypt when the government is aggressively asking other internet companies to provide disproportionate access to their data sounds alarming,” Katitza Rodriguez, the international rights director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told The Intercept.
An Amnesty International report released last September described Egypt as an “open air prison for critics”.
“People are arrested for tweets, for Facebook posts, for giving their opinion about sexual harassment, for supporting a club, or most recently, for cheering for a football player during the Africa Cup games,” said Amnesty International researcher Hussein Baoumi.
The Egyptian government has censored more than 500 websites – including The New Arab – mostly belonging to foreign and local news outlets, opposition organisations, activist blogs and leading international rights groups.
Reporters without Borders rank Egypt at 161 from 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index.