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Internet Cable Cut Plunges Egypt into Digital Darkness


Three main Internet cables from Italy to North Africa were inexplicably severed in the second such incident in a year, plunging Egypt and several other Arab countries into a communications crisis. Some suspect that sabotage was involved, although it is too soon to tell.

Egypt and other Arab countries from Libya to Saudi Arabia to the Persian Gulf are experiencing massive communications disruptions, following the abrupt and as yet unexplained cut of three key Internet cables which join southern Italy with Northern Africa.

Eighty percent of all Internet traffic in Egypt was cut, according to an official statement from the Egyptian Telecommunications Authority. It was the second such incident in just under a year.

International telephone calls were also affected, but communications to North America appear to be more disrupted than communications with Europe. Egyptian officials say they are attempting to re-route some Internet traffic via cables through the Suez Canal to the Red Sea.

The pan-Arab daily newspaper, Asharqalawsat, headlined: "Digital Darkness descends on Egypt and Elsewhere", reporting that the cuts were widespread and risk major economic implications if they continue into the coming week.

Last year, Internet cable cuts caused major economic havoc from Egypt to the Persian Gulf and on to India. Those cuts took days to repair, forcing banks and other corporations to resort to old-fashioned technology to conduct business.

Last year, the Egyptian Telecommunications Industry restored partial Internet service to most businesses, but asked that they refrain from doing major uploading and downloading to avoid putting stress on the network. A crisis committee of top telecommunications experts has also been set up this time around, to help deal with the crisis which could cost the Egyptian economy millions of dollars.

Initial reports say that three internet cables belonging to two major cable operators, Semaway and Flag Corporations, were severed off the southern Italian port city of Palermo. Mohammed Omran a top businessman in communications and technology in Egypt describes what happened.

"Three cables were cut off at Palermo, in the south of Italy: Semaway 3 and Semaway 4, and the Flag cable has actually been cut off at about the same place, all around the same time," he said.

Omran was not ready to conclude that sabotage was involved in the cable cuts, but he argued that it was difficult to believe that such simultaneous cuts could be accidental.

"It's a little soon to say whether it was done intentionally or whether it was cut by the same boat or different boats, but between you and I, I find it very hard to believe, as a human being and a professional in communications, that the three main cables linking the continent to others and multi-countries to one another to be cut off all at the same time and it's less than a span of one year [since] the same thing was repeated again," he said.

As investigations continue and repair work goes on, Egyptian businessmen are trembling over the possible ramifications of yet another Internet-less day Sunday.

Work to install a new set of Internet cables between Alexandria, Egypt and Marseilles, France also began 9 months ago and could be completed in the first half of 2009, to provide an alternate route for the Internet traffic between Europe and North Africa, and to prevent any further Internet crisis from recurring.

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