IT and telecoms found firmly at centre of Egypt protests

February 10, 2011 4:39 pm

Before the protests began, prominent campaigns appeared on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, attempting to organise the protests, which led to the Egyptian government banning both of the sites. Days later the government would take this a stage further, completely blocking all internet services for several days from January 27 to February 1.

The Egyptian economy has suffered greatly due to the unrest, with experts predicting losses in many different areas. Dr Elizabeth Iskander, of the Department of International Relations at London School of Economics and Political Sciences, believes many different sectors will be affected.

“In the short term Egypt is estimated to have lost billions of Egyptians pounds. The banks are only just opening again and the stock exchange was closed during most of this crisis period. As well as these short term losses, tourism will inevitably be affected in the long term. Sinai tourism may rebound more quickly as this area has been less affected by events,” Iskander tells

Shutting down of internet in Egypt ‘cost $90m’

It has been estimated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that the shutdown of the internet will have cost Egypt $90m. Telecom and internet services make up 3%-4% of the country’s GDP and the shutdown will have cost around $18m a day.

Analysts watching the events unfold have reported there was an air of inevitability about the uprising, which appeared to be ignited by the overthrowing of the Tunisian government.

“Egyptian politics and society, like much of the Middle East, has been stagnant for many years. With only a superficial democracy, there is no real dialogue and no real channels for development. The frustration of economic hardships and the fears that are inevitable in a police state, in combination with the corruption of an unaccountable government, were bound to lead to some sort of uprising eventually,” explains Iskander.

Egypt protests continued despite internet shutdown

While some believe the internet and social networking groups to be the main driver of the protests, others have stated otherwise. Tarek Amr, a blogger from within Egypt, said in a web cast: “The regime first turned off the Internet to stop the protestors. They thought this would prevent people from communicating with each other and ruin the protest itself and make people not able to organise.

“But what happened on the ground [was] the protests became bigger even without the Internet. In fact, everybody out there is calling it an Internet revolution, but the fact is, we had the Internet revolution without having access to the Internet at the time.”

A report by Pyramid states that the ICT market in Egypt has enjoyed increased growth recently due to more competition in the telecom sector, while internet penetration figures in the country have also risen. “ADSL services, which are subsidised by the Egyptian government, are offered at prices lower than $6 and are the cheapest in the Arab region for the 256Kbps speed. In addition to the low Internet rates, illegal neighbourhood networks are ubiquitous in Egypt. Market players estimate that each ADSL connection is shared by an average of four units. This has contributed to increasing Internet and broadband adoption in the country,” Hussam Barhoush, senior analyst, AME, comments in the Pyramid report.

Other explanations of the unity of the citizens of Egypt can be found in organisations such as football clubs and other social communities. The debate will rage on how big a part the internet has played in the protests, but the lingering doubt remains, that while internet penetration has improved, it is still not great, and the majority of the protests took place after internet services were shut down.

Cloudy future for Egypt while Mubarak remains

Egypt’s future is now very much clouded. While President Mubarak remains in place, it seems it is almost impossible to predict which way the country will turn. “In the coming weeks we will see if domestic and international pressure can still be brought on Mubarak to force a resignation. We may see pressure from the army increase if the stalemate on negotiations with opposition political groups cannot be broken.

“The option of Mubarak remaining in place while handing authority to Omar Suleiman is complicated by the constitution which limits the capacity to amend the constitution to the president and not anyone else, even in the case of authority being delegated to him by the president. Without significant change in the regime, the frustration and anger that has caused these protest and enabled them to continue will remain with the potential to be ignited again at any time,” Iskander concludes.