How Exactly did Egypt Turn Off the Internet?

By Becca Caddy

Following mass citizen protests last week, the Mubarak regime in Egypt issued an order to shut down all mobile networks and Internet links within the country. But how is that even possible in our modern world of super-connectedness?

People all over the globe have been watching the shocking events in Egypt unfold over the past week or so, as thousands of Egyptians have taken to the streets to protest against President Hosni Mubarak’s authoritarian regime.

In response to the escalating pressure from the people of Egypt and the fear of future uprising beginning online, the Mubarak government has shut down most of the country’s mobile networks and Internet links. To anyone who doesn’t know a great deal about how Internet Service Providers work, including myself, this seems a little ridiculous.

Is there really an “Internet plug” that can be ripped out of the wall by those in power?

Well, according to an article in Fast Company last week, it’s nearly that simple. Craig Labovitz, chief scientist for Arbor Networks, an Internet security company says:

"At the end of the day, the Internet is a bunch of cables in dimly lit, pretty chilly rooms. A country like Egypt probably has a dozen of these,

"It's as simple as literally unplugging these devices. From a practical standpoint, it's more likely a phone call and then making a few changes on the computer to change the configuration."

According to Fast Company, the government would certainly have the power to order the 10 Internet providers in the country to literally pull the plug and if any were to refuse they’d lose their licenses from the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority. Now the question is whether this dramatic action will have any effect on the protestors. Political Commentator Andrew McLaughlin explained inThe Guardian that people are already finding ways around the ban:

“They are relaying information by voice, exploiting small and unnoticed openings in the digital firewall, and dusting off old modems to tap foreign dial-up services.”

The block will cause widespread disruption in terms of communicating with people within the country and abroad, as well as having economical and financial implications for Egypt as a whole. However, many have since commented that instead of calming the public, such a move will only exacerbate the situation even more.

The Internet, and specifically social networks, may work to mobilise people quickly and bring like-minded individuals together, but it’s certainly not the driving force behind political unrest and a desire for change, see Malcolm Gladwell’s controversial essay, Why the Revolution will not be tweeted. Oppressed people have always used what they have at hand to start revolutions and speak out, from leaflets during the American Revolution and much earlier to Iran’s so-called Twitter Revolution last year.

Many people will find a way around the ban and those that don’t will be even more infuriated that their voice on the global stage is being silenced by the current regime.

Visit the AlJazeera website for a live stream of the latest developments in Egypt.

UPDATE: As of 09:46 GMT BBC News via NBC is reporting internet service has been restored in Egypt. 

Becca Caddy is a BitchBuzz Tech columnist and freelance writer. You can follow her @beccacaddy or read her blog

Image showing protests at Giza on January 25th 2011 via Sherif9282.

Wed, 02 Feb 2011 13:00 (GMT+00)
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