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How Egyptians are defying internet shutdown

Abdallah al-Salmi | Tuesday 1 February 2011, 13:37

 
The internet and mobile phone network lockdown in Egypt last week has failed to stifle debate on the anti-Mubarak protests on social media.
Internet and censorship activists outside the country have been helping Egyptian netizens as their online social media have shown no signs of life since 27 January. Activists have provided free dialup internet connection numbers and some have even picked up Morse code and amateur radio signals from Egypt.
Mobile phone connections have been partially restored in recent days, but various services such as mobile internet and SMS are still limited. This has allowed several Twitter users, especially foreign journalists, to send tweets from Egypt almost regularly.
"Ian in Egypt" provided updates and reflections on the situation: "I believe this is a revolutionary moment but not quite a revolution. Tomorrow's "million man march" could be tipping point," he said yesterday.
"Sarah El Sirgany", an Egyptian journalist, managed to update her blog with her "Revolution Diary": "Sunday [30 Jan] started with a dead body and ended up with a tiring long string of checkpoints."
Tweeting in English, Cairo-based AP Correspondent Hadila al-Shalchi said: "No police station left unburned in Alex[andria] and on way into Cairo. People really are pulling their weight to help clean up the city."
Created by Telecomix, which monitors internet access, Jan25Voices conveyed translated messages received from Egyptian protestors by landline phones or amateur radio.
One tweet read: "We are shopping for brooms and plastic bags to take to the demonstration. A positive image is critical."
"From the streets in [Cairo suburb] Al-Ma'adi. People are working hard to get things done before curfew, which begins early today," said another.
Telecomix, together with a group of digital activists in Europe, also provided a list of dialup connection points for Egyptians to connect to the internet.
Other digital activists listened to amateur (ham) radio and Morse code in an attempt to get information.
"[Today] marks a great day [for] Egypt," a message picked up by Telecomix said. A list of received messages, Morse code and ham radio messages can be followed on Twitter using #hamr and #morsecode hashtags.
The presence of mainstream broadcast news media on the ground, such as Al-Jazeera English, could also be one of the reasons why the protests remained a big story on Twitter despite the internet shutdown.
According to Marketing Trends blog, which analyses the media, 245,000 tweets were sent between 28 and 30 January on Egypt. This indicates that Egyptians managed to bypass the 25 January blockage of Twitter for three whole days.
In addition, the geographical Twitter search tool, GeoChirp, also shows how fast news can spread within minutes, turning the Egyptian news story into a global trend. Between 28 and 31 January, various Egyptian names featured on Twitter's top trends. These included Mubarak, Cairo's Tahrir Square and Vice-President Umar Sulayman.
The appointment of Umar Sulayman as vice-president at the height of the 'Day of Anger' was passed on at an unprecedented speed. Within 20 minutes, the Egyptian vice-president's name appeared on the list of Twitter's top 10 trends, trumping famous names such as Liverpool FC footballer Fernando Torres.
GeoChirp also highlights Twitter's capability to spread news across continents. One Twitter user in Japan, Shamilsh, retweeted the news feed from Al-Jazeera English, apparently with Japanese translation. These were later resent by other Japanese microbloggers.
In the UK, users followed #Egypt, focusing on the protests and travel advisories. James Edmondson, a self-described "South London gentleman", said: "London and Washington need to decide soon which side of history they want to be on. There's only one outcome to the Egypt events."
Twitter users in the Arab world also strongly identified with the protests. Angry Palestinian wrote in Arabic: "Come on, the Israeli president says Mubarak made mistakes but what matters is that he safeguarded security - peace is important but the people? To hell with them!"
The blocking of internet access by Egypt-based telecom companies raised calls for action by the twitterati.
One user declared: "Twitter protest today: Please bombard Vodafone UK, Vodafone Egypt to restore internet/SMS communications to Egypt!"
Abdallah al-Salmi is Middle East Analyst for BBC Monitoring
More on use of 'speak-to-tweet' services in Egypt from BBC News here.
Post categories: Internet


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