A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Night the Internet Died in Egypt

It's past midnight here but I'm still watching Egypt, where the day of the big demonstration has already dawned. Time to go to bed. But first:

Read this article and look at this graphic.
Times are GMT. Egypt is GMT +2. Egypt's Internet started to go dark just after midnight local time, and flatlined by 12:30. The night the Internet died in the cradle of civilization.

Details from the link:

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 Approximately 3,500 individual BGP routes were withdrawn, leaving no valid paths by which the rest of the world could continue to exchange Internet traffic with Egypt's service providers.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.
Indeed, I can't raise any .eg sites, not even official ones like Al-Ahram. Also see here.

You can shut down the Internet for a while, but how do you conduct normal commerce? Ben Wedeman of CNN tweeted tonight (well, last night now) that he couldn't check into a hotel since Reservations couldn't access the Internet.

Iran shut it down pretty hard in 2009 to break the demonstrations and Egypt seems to be doing the same tonight. Though in Iran if I recall correctly you could still access government sites from abroad. But Egypt depends on tourism, international trade, the Suez Canal, international remissions, all things that need connectivity. How long can they keep it shut down before they go from acting like North Korea to having North Korea's economy? Not long I suspect.

It's a reminder that the Internet is not the universal democratizing engine some expect as long as governments still control where the plug goes into the wall, or where the ISPs talk to the world. But it also says you're desperate, if you unplug the world for the day. Friday is not a major day for business in Egypt, of course, but can you keep it down Saturday and beyond?

I'll have more tomorrow. Am up too late as it is. But look at that graph.

1 comment:

David Mack said...

Thanks for this, Mike. I was just interviewed on events in Egypt by ABC Radio affiliate in Los Angeles for their morning rush hour talk radio show. For once, I had an informed answer to the questions he asked about the impact of new information media on the situation. It's a whole new era for the Arab world, and my traditional ways of analyzing politics there need updating.