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

For Lebanon-based Refugees, Desperation Fuels Perilous Passage

In a war that has caused an estimated three million people to flee Syria, efforts to make perilous sea journey in search of asylum expected to increase More

South African Brewer Tackles Climate Change

Mega-brewer SAB Miller sent delegates to climate summit in Peru, says it is one of many private companies taking their own steps to fight climate change More

Indonesia Reports Increase in Citizens Joining Islamic State

Officials say more than 350 of its citizens are now in Syria or Iraq to fight with Islamic State - 50 more than last month 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.
Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?i
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
December 17, 2014 11:54 AM
The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?

The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video Turkey's Authoritarianism Dismays Western Allies

The Turkish government has been defiant in the face of criticism at home and abroad for its raids targeting opposition media. The European Union on Monday expressed dismay after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Brussels for criticizing his government's action. Turkey's bid to be considered for EU membership has been on hold while critics accuse the NATO ally of increasingly authoritarian rule. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video US-China Year in Review: Hong Kong to Climate Change

The United States is pushing for a code of conduct to resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea as it works to improve commercial ties with Beijing. VOA State Department correspondent Scott Stearns reports on a year of U.S. policy toward China from Hong Kong to climate change.
Video

Video Japanese Leader’s Election Win Raises Potential for Conflict with Neighbors

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his allies easily won a two-thirds majority in parliament Sunday, even though the country has slipped into recession under his conservative policies. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Seoul, that the prime minister’s victory will empower him to continue economic reforms but also pursue a nationalist agenda that will likely increase tensions with Japan’s neighbors.
Video

Video Nuba Mountain Families Hide in Caves to Escape Aerial Bombings

Despite ongoing peace talks between Sudan's government and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, or SPLM-N, daily aerial attacks continue in South Kordofan province’s Nuba Mountains. Adam Bailes was there and reports for VOA that government forces are targeting civilian areas, rather than military positions, with their daily bombardments.

All About America

AppleAndroid