Under the dictatorial rule of Hosni Mubarak since 1981, Egypt has been plagued with political uprisings mostly due to a struggling economy since the 1990’s. The Population rate is steadily rising, with a yearly increase of 2% on top of an already burgeoning 80 million people. 40% of the Egyptian population lives below poverty level or on less than $2.00 per day. To top it all, the minimum wage of $6.30 a month has remained unchanged since 1984.
One third of Egyptians are illiterate and 90% of those under 30 years old have no job. The inflation rate, especially the price of food, has increased to an unsustainable 17% – with beef sold at $5.13 per pound, from a mere $3.20 per pound just a few months ago.
Sparked off by Tunisia’s successful revolution a week ago, Egyptian protestors who have been communicating through social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter are now experiencing total shut down of internet access as their government tries to suppress further dissent. The Tunisian revolution was triggered when Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire after a policewoman confiscated his unlicensed vegetable cart earning $7.00 a day. Pictures and videos of him quickly went viral over the internet, especially on Facebook and ended with the ousting of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali 10 days after Bouazizi’s death.
Through Social Media, a Facebook page named ‘Revolutionary Day’ which demands political and economic changes from the 30-year regime, garnered more than 85,000 pledges from users vowing to attend a nationwide antigovernment rally set last Tuesday, January 25. The date coincides with Egypt’s Police Day, a day for the country’s security forces known that has been used to quell dissent from the protestors through violence and torture. Another group on Facebook named ‘We are all Khaled Said’ after a young man tortured and killed by the police in Alexandria in 2009 gained 90,000 pledges from users planning to attend the rally.
As tens of thousands poured into the streets of Cairo and gathered outside the Supreme Court, they were met by police armed with water cannons, rubber coated bullets, batons and tear gas. The protest resulted in at least 4 deaths, one of which was a policeman. The crowd dispersed by night time only to come back full force the next day, shouting ‘Down with Hosni Mubarak, Down with the tyrant!’
Twitter was the first to report access block on Tuesday evening in a move by the Egyptian government to prevent further communication among the protestors. Facebook was subsequently blocked starting Wednesday morning, all done in an effort to stop pictures, videos and other details of the dissent from being broadcasted. Lastly, cell phone text messaging and Blackberry Messenger Services were also blocked, until virtually almost all internet access was denied in an unprecedented move by the president to suppress the revolution. Not only does this shut down prevent Egyptians from accessing the web, it also affects TOR, an anticensorship tool that tech savvy dissenters use to go around the Facebook and twitter blocks.
By now, authorities report 800 arrests, but human rights groups purport the number to be closer to 2,000. So far, 9 deaths have been reported. Another protest rally has been posted on social media by techies circumventing the internet shutdown on January 28, gathering 24,000 pledges within an hour after being posted.
Neil Postman wrote on his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, ‘Introduce speed-of-light transmission of images and you make a cultural revolution.’ We now see a demonstration of this statement.
The U.S. government is considering legislation that would give the president a “kill switch” stopping all internet activity in the country. Do you think this is a good idea?