Middle East Qatar Saudi Arabia UAE

Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt block access to Qatari-owned news website

Saudi culture and media ministry shuts down access to site which has also been accused by Egypt of being mouthpiece for Muslim Brotherhood

Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates are blocking access to a Qatari-owned news website in a sign of escalating tension in the region.

A spokesperson for Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, which runs The New Arab and its Arabic language version, described the move as surprising and unexplained. Both sites were initially blocked by the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Culture and Media, and then in the UAE and Egypt.

In a statement, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed said: “The blocking of these websites goes against the company’s principles of supporting democracy, human rights and liberty, as well as the notion of press freedom. The New Arab and its sister site provide a platform for the voice of the Middle East and aim to provoke an exchange of ideas and open discussion in a responsible manner.”

The sites were particularly popular in those countries that had put the blocks in place, it added.

Doug Madory, director of internet analysis at Dyn, an internet performance company which tracks access restrictions, confirmed that users in Saudi Arabia were barred from The New Arab. Visitors from within Saudi Arabia to http://www.alaraby.co.uk, which is based in London, are currently presented with messages in English and Arabic saying “sorry, the website requested is violating the regulations of the ministry of culture and information”.

When asked why the site had been blocked, Al-Araby chief executive Abdulrahman Elshayyal said he didn’t know: “We have been balanced and objective in our coverage despite the silly accusations.”

The site, like fellow Qatari news outlet Al-Jazeera, has come under fire from Egyptian authorities, which have accused it of being a mouthpiece for Islamic political group the Muslim Brotherhood.

Egypt, which at the start of December was imprisoning more journalists than any country except China, has proved especially hostile to Al-Jazeera, locking up three of the channel’s journalists under terrorism offences until releasing and either deporting or pardoning them last year.

Separately, the English language website of Saudi broadcaster Al-Arabiya was down on Tuesday after apparently being targeted by hackers, according to a message on its Twitter account.

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