News / Middle East

Harsh Internet Tactics Become Double-Edged Sword in Egypt

Google Transparency Report shows the moment when the government in Cairo cut off access to the Internet for Egypt. Click the graphic to view the interactive version on Google.
Google Transparency Report shows the moment when the government in Cairo cut off access to the Internet for Egypt. Click the graphic to view the interactive version on Google.
William Ide

Authorities in Egypt shut down the country's last remaining Internet service provider on Monday - essentially taking the entire nation offline. As officials take other measures including shutting down train service and limiting cellphone connectivity to try and slow the growing swell of protests, questions are rising over just how big an impact Egypt's tough tactics could have on other tightly-ruled countries across the globe.

Late last week, Jim Cowie, the chief technology officer at Renesys - a company that monitors global Internet traffic - says his organization saw something unprecedented going on with the Internet in Egypt.

"As we watched it [the Internet] last Friday, we observed something that we've really never seen before, at that scale," he said. "All of the paths that go to Egyptian providers - with a very few exceptions - vanished. And in about the space of about 20 minutes, one by one, each of the providers of Internet service that has international connections in Egypt turned them off."

Watch Carolyn Presutti's Related Video Report

One ISP or Internet service provider did remain online, Noor Group, an ISP that services some 83 customer networks - including the Egyptian Stock Exchange, the clearinghouse for the stock market, multinational companies and other financial related entities.

This graphic shows the sequence in which Egyptian service providers removed themselves from the Internet
This graphic shows the sequence in which Egyptian service providers removed themselves from the Internet

But Noor Group, Cowie says, was taken offline on Monday morning as well.  

"For them to undertake this level of disconnection from the Internet in such a, such a sudden blunt instrument kind of strike against themselves, that it took those of us who monitor Internet routing, pretty much by surprise," he said.

It also took activists by surprise.

"All of the Egyptian dissidents I speak with on G-Chat [Google Chat] suddenly disappeared in one fell swoop and they haven't reappeared yet," said David Keyes, director of cyberdissidents.org, an organization that advocates for the rights of online activists. He says that while authorities decision to pull what some are calling the "Internet kill switch" has made his work more difficult, it ultimately will hurt autocratic regimes.

"People will see this blunt instrument of shutting down the Internet for what it is: a great fear of the power of the people," he said. "And I think it actually might embolden dissidents and bloggers."

Internet experts note that Egypt is not the first country to pull the kill switch on the Web, similar tactics have been used in Burma, China and Nepal in the past. But, they say, it is the first instance where it has been so widespread.

And while authorities ordered ISPs to shut down, the public is still finding ways to circumvent the blackout.

Some have been using old fashion dial-up telephone services to connect to the Internet. Google and Twitter teamed up to provide a service called Speak2Tweet. The service allows individuals from Egypt and around the world to listen to and leave voice messages like this one on Twitter.

"Peace be with you.  I'm Ehab from Cairo. I want to say one message. We are 85 million pharaohs.  We fight this man, we want him to leave Egypt."

It is unclear how long Egypt's Internet blackout will last, however, most experts say it is unlikely to be too long, given the impact on society and the economy.

"The global economy is constructed around the Internet and around digital communication more generally, whether it be Skype calls or mobile phone calls having to do with international trade. It simply presupposes a robust ability to communicate internationally," said Steven Livingston, a professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University. He says Egypt's decision to cut off the Internet has undermined its already precarious economic situation.

"Egypt's economy is lagging, it needs as many observers have noted just to stay, to keep up with the need for jobs of a very large and young population," he said. "It needs to have the growth rates of China or India and it is far from that."

Although some authoritarian governments may see the Egypt model as a possible way of trying to squelch unrest, Jim Cowie, CTO of Renesys, adds that the growing need for connectivity could also serve as a deterrent.

"My hope is that other countries will take a look at this," he said. "Take a look at the economic impact and the reputational impact on Egypt as an information society that wants to grow a native information technology industry and attract foreign investment."

Last year, Egyptian officials say the information and communication technologies sector grew by 12 percent.

David Keyes, of cyberdissidents.org believes that despite the immediate effectiveness of pulling the Internet's kill switch, ultimately it is the public in Egypt and across the globe that has the upper hand.

"There are certainly ways that the regimes [in the region] try and use the Internet to their advantage and sometimes they are very successful," he said. "But ultimately information is an exceedingly difficult thing to stop."

Which is what some observers note has happened in Egypt over the past week. Where a growing number of protestors continue to pour out into the streets, even after the government took down Twitter, Facebook and the entire Internet.

You May Like

Yemen Brings US, Iran Closer to Naval Face-off

US sending two more ships to waters off coast of Yemen to take part in 'maritime security operations' More

Minorities Become Majority Across US

From 2000 to 2013, minorities became the majority in 78 counties in the United States. Here's where those demographic shifts are happening More

Japan's Maglev Train Breaks Own Speed Record

Seven-car 'magnetic levitation' train traveled at more than 600 kilometers per hour during test run Tuesday More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Paini
X
Shelley Schlender
April 20, 2015 7:03 PM
Pain has a purpose - it can stop you from touching a flame or from walking on a broken leg. As an injury heals, the pain goes away. Usually. But worldwide, one out of every five people suffers from pain that lasts for months and years, leading to lost jobs, depression, and rising despair when medical interventions fail or health experts hint that a pain sufferer is making it up. From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Italy Rescues Migrants After Separate Deadly Capsize Incident

Italy continued its massive search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean Monday for the capsized boat off the coast of Libya that was carrying hundreds of migrants, while at the same time rescuing Syrian migrants from another vessel off the coast of Sicily. Thirteen children were among the 98 Syrian migrants whose boat originated from Turkey on the perilous journey to Europe.
Video

Video New Test Set to Be Game Changer in Eradicating Malaria

The World Health Organization estimates 3.4 billion people are at risk of malaria, with children under the age of five and pregnant women being the most vulnerable. As World Malaria Day approaches (April 25), mortality rates are falling, and a new test -- well into the last stage of trials -- is having positive results in Kenya. Lenny Ruvaga reports for VOA from Nairobi.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.

VOA Blogs