Last Online Voices Before Change Bursts From Digital Darkness In Egypt?28/01/2011 by William New, Intellectual Property Watch Leave a CommentShare this Story:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Much of our best content is available only to IP Watch subscribers. We are a non-profit independent news service, and subscribing to our service helps support our goals of bringing more transparency to global IP and innovation policies. To access all of our content, please subscribe now.For any visitor to Egypt, it is impossible to ignore the extraordinary destitution of masses of people living in dusty, stark cement structures everywhere on the edges of Cairo or the choked roads clogged with a far-too-rapidly swollen population. Reports from the ground via digital technologies chronicled events that hit this week, but it might be the digital silence today that seals the change. Observations in the past were that academics, journalists, bloggers, scientists, inventors and technologists working in Egypt clearly were among the world’s elite in their fields but seemed to work with small excuses and with caution, finding countless ways to keep up with the latest global thinking while avoiding stepping over the many lines that might trigger a reaction from security forces or someone else. There seemed to be a defined sense of what could and could not be said or done, with perhaps increasingly bold nudges into the disallowed in recent years.Bloggers in particular made big cuts into the tight grip of government in recent years, risking severe recrimination to show videos and tell stories about abuses of citizens on the street or those taken away. There is ongoing discussion on listservs and blogs about how much of a role electronic tools like Twitter, Facebook, Skype or YouTube played in the recent overturn of the Tunisian leadership. And those same tools were in use in this week’s buildup of events in Egypt.But the tone seemed to change both outside and in the country early today – the Day of Anger – when the Egyptian government broke new ground in almost totally shutting off internet access in the country, attempting to send it into a digital darkness. Facebook pages of Egyptian access to knowledge scholars and others showed a balanced, steady stream of reports from their locations in the country during the week until they just cut off last night.This blog from James Cowie of Renesys, tells the technical story of Egypt’s drop off the internet, having apparently come from an order of the Egyptian government to the four main internet service providers in the country.Last Citizen E-Communication from the GroundOne lawyer resorted to Skype to correspond this week after Facebook was blocked, reporting a string of messages that must have been similar to millions of others:[1/25/2011 ] they blocked Twitter here hope not FB follow on what we post on FB and CNN too it is big this time pray for usOn 26 January the lawyer reported again:[1/26/2011] they blocked fb again it is getting v. bad here it was bad in afternoon but they attacked the protesters badly A lot of blood and some passed away someone shuould warn those in power here killing people will not help anyone the US gov is really stupid we need a declaration as strong as it was towards Iran everything is monitored here they are recording all our phone calls read our mails and they might be following us here this is v. nasty!!!! many has been jailed I hope the people everywhere can post about what is happening here so the world KNOW maybe someone still has brain to stop the brutality of the policemen hope mr. Obama can hear the youth of EGThe attorney mentioned reports that criminals were sent into the crowds to claim they are protesters but carrying weapons, and stealing, noting:i wonder if this news reach you it is v. dangerousThe source also mentioned doubts about news coverage, saying President Mubarak was said to have made a deal with Aljazeera news agency, visiting them twice in recent weeks.Then randomly, a final, single message came in at about 10:00 at night on 27 January, just minutes before the near-complete cutoff of the internet:[1/27/2011] check this https://www.accessnow.org/page/s/help-egyptThat reference was to a link to a group called Access, supported by a variety of open internet luminaries like Harvard Law School Professor Larry Lessig, which is trying to construct ways for Egyptian citizens to get online despite the crackdown. The group was the subject of some debate and scepticism on listservs, but seems to be accepted as legitimate.Global Voices, a blogger group, had a report on how people in Egypt are still getting communications out. For instance, at least one twitter account set up on 28 January is getting around the government block using call-ins, as is another twitter account of one person, which reported that landline phones are working.Meanwhile, a more ominous support message from Anonymous, the hacker group that also claims credit for online actions supporting Wikileaks, has been circulated online. In a Youtube video, here, the Anonymous group threatened to take down Egyptian government websites and make anyone supporting the regime pay unless the government showed some signs of concession toward its peoples’ demands.Reports say United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon criticised the shutdown of internet access in Egypt. The Internet Society issued a statement criticising the shutdown.Internet policy experts are abuzz with discussion about how to prevent governments from blocking their citizens’ access to the internet. It is likely fora will emerge for making these discussions more concrete.[Update: the Internet Rights and Principles dynamic coalition has issued a statement calling for Egypt to respect its peoples’ right to online freedom of expression and restore access to information and communications technologies. Call for freedom of expression online in Egypt here [pdf].]The Talents, and Doubts, of Egyptian ScholarsGovernment officials engaged in international negotiations related to intellectual property rights, public health, trade and the like have often been among the more outspoken for developing countries’ needs, exhibiting a savvy negotiating style that befitted a leading power in the region and a historically recognised world civilization.It is perhaps not ironic that the forces of change in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere are occurring without – and even contrary to – United States support. One could even wonder whether Iraq might also have ultimately seen change without the hundreds of billions of dollars of expenditure and thousands of lives lost.Those in Egypt who might stand to benefit from the global intellectual property rights system have been suspicious of that system constructed from outside. For example, an Egyptian scientist told Intellectual Property Watch last year that Egypt sees significant “agricultural tourism” – people coming to see its marvels in agricultural advances where it has thrived on the Nile. And it is proud to have many advances in genetic resources and traditional knowledge. But when the World Intellectual Property Organization came to promote the creation of a database to collect some of this information with an eye toward IP rights protection, Egyptians resisted out of concern that they would lose control of those resources and ideas.Mubarak has declared a new government will be installed. But it remains to be seen what a new Egypt will look like.Share this Story:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)RelatedWilliam New may be reached at email@example.com."Last Online Voices Before Change Bursts From Digital Darkness In Egypt?" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.