Anti-government protests have been rocking Egypt as tens of thousands of people demonstrate against President Hosni Mubarak and his totalitarian regime. The news has been flowing regarding violence and mass arrests in the streets, but what if the news just stopped? That appears to be the tactic behind an unusual government literally turn off the internet in the country, turning Egypt into a potential informational black hole.
Confirming what a few have reported this evening: in an action unprecedented in Internet history, the Egyptian government appears to have ordered service providers to shut down all international connections to the Internet. Critical European-Asian fiber-optic routes through Egypt appear to be unaffected for now. But every Egyptian provider, every business, bank, Internet cafe, website, school, embassy, and government office that relied on the big four Egyptian ISPs for their Internet connectivity is now cut off from the rest of the world. Link Egypt, Vodafone/Raya, Telecom Egypt, Etisalat Misr, and all their customers and partners are, for the moment, off the air.
At 22:34 UTC (00:34am local time), Renesys observed the virtually simultaneous withdrawal of all routes to Egyptian networks in the Internet’s global routing table. Approximately 3,500 individual BGP routes were withdrawn, leaving no valid paths by which the rest of the world could continue to exchange Internet traffic with Egypt’s service providers. Virtually all of Egypt’s Internet addresses are now unreachable, worldwide.
What happens when you disconnect a modern economy and 80,000,000 people from the Internet? What will happen tomorrow, on the streets and in the credit markets? This has never happened before, and the unknowns are piling up. We will continue to dig into the event, and will update this story as we learn more. As Friday dawns in Cairo under this unprecedented communications blackout, keep the Egyptian people in your thoughts.
Today is expected to be the biggest day of protests yet, and some are concerned that the lack of internet could hamper the organizing efforts, a primary goal of the government, no doubt. According to the Guardian:
“Egypt today is in a pre-information age,” [Nobel Peace Prize winner and Egyptian dissident Mohamed ElBaradei] said. “The Egyptians are in solitary confinement – that’s how unstable and uncomfortable the regime is. Being able to communicate is the first of our human rights and it’s being taken away from us. I haven’t seen this in any other country before.”
He said the lack of communications could hamper organisation of today’s demonstrations, planned to begin after Friday prayers. “I don’t know what my hopes are for today,” he said. “It would be hard with the communications cut off but I think a lot of people will be turning out.” Organisers of todays’ marches – dubbed “the Friday of anger and freedom” – are defying a government ban on protests issued on Wednesday. They have been using social media to co-ordinate, and hope to rally even more than the tens of thousands who turned out on Tuesday in the biggest protests since 1977.
Despite the crackdown, news is still managing to leak out, especially via social networking. To follow live reports, be sure to check out the twitter hashtag #Egypt.
Photo: wikimedia commons
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