As millions prepared to gather in Egypt’s streets Tuesday the country’s ISPs and mobile communications carriers faced near-total shutdown status.
Despite government efforts to restrict communications however, Al Jazeera,Twitter, Google and little-known Meedan — a digital “town square” for sharing conversation and links about world events (where all posts, from headlines, to articles, to comments thereon are mirrored in English and Arabic) — formed the world’s last best conduits for real-time information on events transpiring in the ancient land of Pharaohs.
Last Thursday Egypt began pulling the plug on Internet access in response to heightened tensions in the wake of the fall of Tunisia’s authoritarian regime.
Increasing numbers of protestors have taken to the streets in recent days to voice opposition to 30 years of authoritarian rule by “President” Hosni Mubarak and Monday’s announcement by the country’s army promising not to use force against peaceful protests, vowing to respect “the legitimacy of honest people’s demands,” set the stage for a general strike on Tuesday that could rally millions, and signal a major shift in the balance of political power in the Middle East.
As the government moved to further tighten communications on Monday, shutting down mobile carriers ahead of Tuesday’s planned demonstrations, several international initiatives sprang forth to fill the communication gap.
Google set up a “speak to tweet” service late Monday, allowing people without an internet connection to leave a voice-mail message, which can be turned automatically into a tweet. Meedan is working with curated.by to create a channel for Twitter traffic on #egypt and #jan25, and maintains its own log of news and information at meedan.net.
As dawn begins to break in Egypt, reports on Twitter and Meedan networks suggest that at least some telephone calls are getting connected, and the Al Jazeera network continues to show footage and live blog the morning’s events from Cairo and Alexandria.