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Published On: Sat, Jan 29th, 2011

Egypt may have turned off the Internet one phone call at a time and President Hosni Mubarak has named intelligence chief Omar Suleiman as his first ever vice-president

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Egypt’s shutdown of the Internet within its borders is an action unlike any other in the history of the World Wide Web and it might have only taken a few phone calls to do it.”It’s something I’ve never seen; it’s totally unprecedented,” said James Cowie, the co-founder and chief technology officer
of Renesys, an IT company in New Hampshire that helps Internet service providers monitor the security of Web networks and infrastructure.
“Over a period a period of about 20 minutes, it’s as if each of the primary service providers started pulling the routes that lead to them. It wasn’t like a simultaneous withdrawal.
“Nobody flipped an off switch or hit a big red button. It was one by one until they were all gone.”
The Egyptian government cut off nearly all online services between midnight and 12:30 a.m., Egyptian time, on Friday, Cowie said — something he noted on his company’s blog as he witnessed the blackout.
As Egypt entered its fifth day of angry protests, the Internet was still down.
On Saturday, the Associated Press reported that Egyptian security officials have said that at least 62 people have been killed nationwide in the mass demonstrations.
President Obama called on Egypt to turn the Internet back on Friday.
The situation in Egypt is different from what took place in Tunisia recently, with specific services and Websites blocked, or in Iran during its political unrest, where the Internet was slowed down to an almost unusable speed but not entirely shut down, he said.
“Egypt is a modern country; the government doesn’t own the Internet,” Cowie said. “There are private companies of varying sizes that own and operate their own infrastructure. But it seems that they got a call and so they turned it off.”
Cowie said the cooperation of Internet service providers with the Egyptian government has raised ethical questions that can be diffcult for businesses legally.
“The fact is, if the government calls up and makes a request within its legal rights and you’re an important company that has to do business and has shareholders and hopes to do business in that country in the future, you simply have to follow the law,” he said.
The suspension of the Internet is one of Egypt’s latest moves in halting online communications amid unrest.
As the Technology blog reported, on Thursday the government blocked Internet data for BlackBerrysmart phones and on Tuesday social media websites such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube were unavailable to Egyptians as well. Mobile phone service in Egypt was cut off on Friday too.
The Web, and in particular social media sites, have been an invaluable tool for activists seeking political and social reforms in Egypt, said Charles Hirschkind, an associate professor of anthropology at UC Berkeley.
“The Egyptian government, they’re hoping that these communication methods are a lifeline for the protests and activists and they’re hoping that cutting off access will help lead to stopping the demonstrations,” Hirschkind said. “But it’s also apparent from the number of people in the street that people have plenty of ways to communicate outside of the Internet as well.
“The social networks in activist and in protest movements like this are social networks that extend beyond the Internet. The Internet is a tool but not the social network itself.”
Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak has named intelligence chief Omar Suleiman as his first ever vice-president as he struggles to regain control of the country.
Aviation minister Ahmed Shafiq has also been appointed as prime minister.
Tens of thousands of protesters defied the curfew to remain on the streets, despite army warnings.
There have been clashes in Alexandria, Cairo and Ismailiya. At least 74 people have been killed in the last two days.
In Cairo, police fired rubber bullets and tear gas in clashes with protesters at the interior ministry, but the army did not intervene. Injuries have been reported.
Cairo, Alexandria and Suez are under an extended curfew from 1600 to 0800 (1400-0600 GMT).
US President Barack Obama met his national security team for an hour on Saturday to discuss the situation in Egypt.
Mr Obama is stressing the need for Mr Mubarak to enact reforms and show restraint, the White House said.
There was a similar call from the leaders of Britain, Germany and France.
“We call on President Mubarak to avoid at all costs the use of violence against unarmed civilians, and on the demonstrators to exercise their rights peacefully,” said Prime Minister David Cameron, Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Nicolas Sarkozy in a joint statement.
‘Live bullets’
Cairo’s central Tahrir (Liberation) Square remains filled with protesters. Troops and armoured vehicles have been deployed but have not yet taken any action.
A BBC Arabic correspondent at the scene reported a friendly atmosphere between the army and the demonstrators.
But clashes between the protesters and the riot police have left at least 74 people dead since rallies began on Tuesday. About 2,000 people have been injured.
“Live bullets have been fired at protesters, aimed at their heads,” Dr Yaser Sayyed at the Sayyed Galal Hospital in Cairo told BBC Arabic.
“We have seen more than 20 cases of headshots with the bullet wounds on the front of the head and exit wounds on the other side, skulls fractured… in addition to chest wounds.”
The army advised people to obey the curfew and avoid gathering in groups.
Looters rampaged through a number of upper-class neighbourhoods in Cairo, while in Alexandria there were reports of widespread looting of supermarket chains.
Some residents have formed committees to protect their homes and buildings.
The BBC’s Lyse Doucet in Cairo says she has seen one local defence committee arming itself with hockey sticks, a metal exercise bar and a table leg.
Egyptian-born cleric Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi has said Mr Mubarak must stand down.
“I advise President Mubarak to leave his position and to leave Egypt,” the influential cleric said. “There is no other solution to this problem but for [Mr] Mubarak to go.”
‘Reluctant to fire’
Hundreds of foreign tourists and Egyptian nationals are at Cairo’s main airport seeking flights out of the country.
The UK has advised against all but essential travel to Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor and Suez.
The US has issued warnings to its nationals to cancel non-essential travel to Egypt. A number of European countries have also advised against visiting the country.
In Abu Za’abal prison in Cairo, a political prisoner told the BBC that 120 inmates took control of one sector of the jail.
Speaking by mobile phone, Mohamed Mahmud Sami – who has been in prison for 17 years – said: “Security forces are trying to storm in, but we can see that the soldiers are reluctant to fire at us, as if they want to side with the rebelling people of Egypt.”
Cairo stock exchange will be closed on Sunday – a full trading day in the Middle East – because of the turmoil in the city.
After a day of violent protests on Friday, President Mubarak appeared on state TV to announce he was sacking his government. The cabinet has now formally resigned.
Mobile phone services have been restored in Cairo, but the internet remains down.
In Suez, soldiers were on the streets after the city’s police fled following Friday’s violence in which the main police station was burned down.
And a BBC Arabic producer reported that prison inmates rioted in the city of Manufiya, north-west of Cairo.
US President Barack Obama spoke to Mr Mubarak on Friday and urged him to uphold promises of reform. The US will review its aid of $1.5bn (£1.1bn) to Egypt based on events in the coming days.
The unrest in Egypt follows an uprising in Tunisia two weeks ago which toppled President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali after 23 years in power.
The Tunisian upheaval began with anger over rising food prices, high unemployment and anger at official corruption – problems which have also left many people in Egypt feeling frustrated and resentful of their leadership.
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