The chief executive of Egypt’s Information Technology Industry Development Agency, Yasser Elkady, told MEED on 20 January that “an open and free internet is vital for innovation.” A week later, his boss shut down the internet in Egypt. Hosni Mubarak hoped to derail the protests by limiting communication, but it did nothing to stop the protesters.
His tactic was drastic. Censoring the internet has long been practiced by many governments across the world, but taking down entire networks has never been done before, not even by China. Telecommunications has become the backbone of world economies and without it industry comes to a standstill. A week of no employment or trade is damaging. Research into the impact has yet to be carried out, but the costs could spiral to billions of dollars.
Worryingly, the move demonstrated the ease at which it can be done. What is more, it could increasingly become a tactic employed by other authoritarian regimes to silence dissidents.
Finland and Estonia have ruled that access to the internet is a human right. The UN is pushing for the same thing across the world. Hundreds of thousands of people showed their support for Egyptians by joining ‘a virtual march of millions in solidarity with Egyptian protestors’. Silencing these internet citizens has become impossible, unless you switch off the internet. But the past week has shown that disgruntled citizens will still pour on to the streets and demand change even if they cannot access the internet.