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Egypt: An Internet Black Hole

Categories: Middle East & North Africa, Egypt, Digital Activism, Freedom of Speech, Governance, Human Rights, Media & Journalism, Protest, Technology

This post is part of our special coverage of Egypt Protests 2011 [1].

Over the past few days, as protesting Egyptians have utilized social media tools for organizing and disseminating information, they've also come across numerous obstacles to access: On January 25, Twitter was reportedly blocked [2], with Facebook following the next day [3].  By the 27th, access to both sites was sporadic.

At around 1:00 am in Cairo on Friday, January 28–a day of planned protests–reports began to trickle in that the Internet had become inaccessible to Egyptians in Cairo and Alexandria.  A few minutes later, @iman_said tweeted [4]:

yes, CNN confirms internet is down in ALL of Egypt. Egypt now is total blackhole #jan25 [5] #egypt [6] #SHAME [7]

Shortly thereafter, Alaa Abd El Fattah (@alaa [8]), an Egyptian based in South Africa, warned [9]:

we should be prepared for total mobile phone blackout tomorrow also (or at least in protest hotspots) #Jan25 [10]

Jacob Appelbaum (@ioerror [11]), an American who has been reporting instances of Internet filtering in Egypt, confirmed [12] the almost-complete block, saying:

It sure looks like nearly all of Egypt is offline – only their SS7 network seems to be working. #jan25 [5] #egypt [6]

Those working to contact friends and family in Egypt expressed frustration and concern over Twitter.  @alaa explained [13]:

cell phones still working in egypt that's how I'm staying in touch, but service spotty in areas

The view from the U.S. is somewhat encouraging; in an interesting twist, Alec Ross (@alecjross [14]), Senior Adviser for Innovation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, tweeted [15] in Arabic:

أننا ندعو السلطات المصرية أن تسمح بالاحتجاجات السلمية ، كما ندعو أن تمتنع عن التدخل في وسائل التواصل الاجتماعي #jan25 #Egypt
We call upon the Egyptian authorities to allow peaceful protests, and call on them to refrain from interfering with means of social communication.

Despite the block, it appears that a few remaining Egyptians are still tweeting in hopes of getting news out to the world. In light of the blackout, Global Voices will attempt to report from phone calls and other communications over the course of the next few days.