Dark days in Egypt

15 February 2011 | Alex Hawkes

While it is not uncommon for telecoms-related issues to fight their way onto the news agenda, the events unfolding in Egypt in recent days are unprecedented, both in terms of their scale and their implications.

Hundreds of thousands of protestors – local reports claim over a million – have taken to the streets, calling for President Hosni Mubarak and his new government to resign.

The army’s pledge not to use force has caused the government to turn to other methods to stifle protests, effectively closing down the entire internet in Egypt. Internet connectivity in Egypt is almost entirely reliant on four major ISPs – Link Egypt, Vodafone/Raya, Telecom Egypt and Etisalat Misr. During 15 minutes on 27th January, according to Renesys, each of these ISPs shut down all their international connections to the internet, effectively closing the Egyptian internet, which remains offline at the time of writing. While the smaller Noor Group, which hosts the Egyptian Stock Exchange, remained live for longer than the major players, it too became unreachable on 31st January. Mobile operators Vodafone, Mobinil and Etisalat Misr were also instructed to suspend services on 28th January. Vodafone claimed: "Under Egyptian legislation, the authorities have the right to issue such an order and we are obliged to comply," stressing that it would have taken them longer to resume reservices if Egyptian authorities had forcibly closed down their network. Mobile services have since started to resume.

While civil rights groups are condemning the developments as a breach of freedom of speech, the recent events threaten communications far beyond the Egyptian borders. Fibre-optic routes such as SWM-4 and FLAG FEA run through Egypt, linking Europe to Asia; they appear to be unaffected, according to regional sources, but given the fluid nature of events we will all, no doubt, be monitoring the developments closely.

Angela Partington, Editor