A large portion of citizens in Arab countries use virtual private networks (VPNs) to circumvent restrictive laws on internet use and to overcome bandwidth limitations for gaming and streaming services.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has the highest VPN download rate globally, as a proportion of population, with a total of 4.27 million downloads occurring in the UAE, equivalent to 43% of the total population, according to Atlas VPN research.
In the United Arab Emirates, websites that violate Islamic moral standards are banned as well as services such as WhatsApp, Skype, FaceTime and Facebook Messenger. People are also prohibited from criticizing the government.
Arab countries made up four of the top five nations in terms of VPN usage per population, according to the VPN Adoption Index by AtlasVPN.
In Qatar, there were 2.88 million downloads, just over 39% of its population. In Saudi Arabia, there were 9 million VPN downloads, or 27% of its population; while in Oman there were 1.5 million downloads out of a population of five million.
In an Atlas VPN blog post said: “Arab nations are governed by hereditary rulers who hold the majority of administrative, legislative and judicial power. The civil rights of citizens and non-citizens are severely restricted.
“To overcome some of these limitations, residents are looking for tools that could help them regain their freedoms. VPNs are one of the main tools people in Arab countries use to increase their freedom of expression and access restricted content,” said Atlas VPN.
For example, the UAE Cybercrime Act states: “A term of temporary imprisonment and a fine of not less than AED 500,000 and not more than AED 2,000,000, or either of these two penalties, will be imposed on anyone who uses a fraudulent computer network protocol address by using a false address or a third party address or by any other means for the purpose of committing a crime or preventing its discovery.
But the increased use of VPNs in the region is not only trying to circumvent restrictions on what they can do online, but also the result of gamers trying to overcome bandwidth limits and allowing them to connect. with people in other regions.
“Mainly, gulf gamers use VPNs to change their IP address to match players from other regions and to avoid bandwidth throttling. Also, VPNs are needed by streamers to prevent DDoS attacks,” said the Atlas VPN blog.
Irina Tsukerman, a human rights lawyer and national security and geopolitical analyst specializing in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and information warfare, said: “More recently, gaming and streaming have become major motivators for using VPNs, especially as some countries reform and modernize. The gambling industry has become huge in the Middle East, especially in the Gulf.