What The Crap, Egypt?

[Last update: Friday, 9:40 pm] Egypt has shut off the Internet. It's something that no other country has ever done before, but faced with democratic protesters demanding the end of 30 years under the authoritarian rule of President Hosni Mubarak, it seems that his government ordered all the service providers in the country to pull the plug. The idea, it seems, is to cut off the protesters' access to information, their ability to organize and their opportunities to spread their message on social media sites like Twitter and YouTube, which have played such a vital role in similar protests over the last couple of years.

Rather than flooding our "Little Red Recommendations" with all of the articles we're reading about the situation, we figured we'd share a bunch of the best ones here:

CNET has details on how the crap this is happening. The Egyptian government apparently denies that they had anything to do with it, but signs from independent sources seems to suggest that the Egyptian government is full of crap. The article also points out, interestingly, that one service provider is still functioning. And that may have something to do with the high profile American companies on their client list: folks like Coca-Cola, Nestle, Fedex, ExxonMobil and Pfizer, along with the Egyptian stock exchange. 

The New York Times uses WikiLeaks cables to explore the Obama adminstration's relationship with Mubarak. Unlike Dubbya, Obama has actively tried to avoid public criticism of his Egyptian counterpart despite claims of torture and corruption. Mubarak—who gets more than $1.3 billion in military aid from the United States every year—might be a horrible dictator, but he's also been pretty helpful to the Americans: by putting pressure on Iran, supporting the new government in Iraq and throwing his weight behind the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The Clintons, apparently, consider the oppressor and his wife to be "family friends", though Hilary has admitted that "we all have room for improvement" when it comes to human rights. Yeesh.

Foreign Policy checks in with a profile of the young people in the North Africa and the Middle East who have been the driving force behind the unrest in Egypt as well as other recent protests, including the ones that forced the President of Tunisia to flee the country a couple of weeks ago. There are twice as many people under 30 over there than there are here in North America, and the unemployment rate for them is crazy: something like 40%. In another excellent article, they provide more context for the protests and Egypt's relationship with the United States.

Meanwhile, the Huffington Post is live blogging it all, posting information as it becomes available. If their coverage is anywhere near as good as it was during the Iranian protests, you'll want to be going there if you're interested in regular updates on the situation.

And, of course, we recommend that you check back here, too! If we find any more interesting articles about the events in Egypt, we'll be sure to add them to this post.

Updates: Friday, 3:08 pm: Foreign Policy has another editorial, this one urging the United States to take a stronger stand on then side of the protesters, while the Washington Post reports that the Obama administration will be reviewing their aid to Egypt (and also recaps some of Hilary Clinton's press conference from earlier today).

In Toronto tomorrow, there will be a rally in support of the Egyptian and Tunisian protests. 1pm. Yonge-Dundas Square. Here's the Facebook invite.

Saturday, 10:34 am: You can also watch a live stream of Al Jazeera's English coverage here.

Sunday, 1:24 pm: Annnnnd you can now add Al Jazeera to the list of media shut down by Mubarak's government. The Associated Press reports that they are attempting to end "all activities" by the new network in Egypt, have revoked their licenses, shut down their offices and had a satelite provider end their feed. Reuters explains the situation here and recaps the vital role the station has played in covering the protests—and contrasts their coverage with the "official" story being told on Egyptian state television. For those of us outside Egypt, however, Al Jazeera's coverage continues unabated, which you can still watch in English here. (They have, however, stopped mentioning the names of their correspondents in an effort to protect them.)

Sunday, 1:34 pm: The Egyptian government isn't the only oppressive regime censoring coverage of the protests. The Chinese have blocked search results for the word "Egypt" on their Twitter-like social media networks, and are deleting comments about the events on other websites, while giving limited coverage on their own state-run news agency. The Wall Street Journal has a very interesting article about the Chinese reaction here.

Sunday, 7:36 pm: Over 100 political scientists, historians, and researchers with experience in Middle East and U.S foreign policy have signed an open letter to president Obama asking him to support the protestors in Egypt. It reads:
We believe their message is bold and clear: Mubarak should resign from office and allow Egyptians to establish a new government free of his and his family’s influence. It is also clear to us that if you seek, as you said Friday “political, social, and economic reforms that meet the aspirations of the Egyptian people,” your administration should publicly acknowledge those reforms will not be advanced by Mubarak or any of his adjutants.
The letter also urges Obama to take this opportunity to  reexamine the U.S's geopolitical strategy in the region and "approach Egypt through a framework of shared values and hopes."
On Friday you rightly said that “suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away.” For that reason we urge your administration to seize this chance, turn away from the policies that brought us here, and embark on a new course toward peace, democracy and prosperity for the people of the Middle East. And we call on you to undertake a comprehensive review of US foreign policy on the major grievances voiced by the democratic opposition in Egypt and all other societies of the region.
Monday, 8:56 am: Dan Nolan (@nolanjazeera), of Al Jazeera English tweeted about three hours ago that the military presence downtown is being increasingly felt, and soldiers are now guarding the hotel where most reporters are staying. They are checking the passports of all who enter or leave the hotel. Food, gas and phone card prices are skyrocketing, and ATM machines are empty all over Cairo. The feeling is very much like the city is under siege. About one hour ago, 4 soldiers entered the hotel room where Al Jazeera English are located and put the reporters under military arrest. Equipment, cameras  and phones were seized and they are being detained at a military checkpoint. Nolan's last tweet as of this update was:
Losing my phone now. Think we are ok. 
Monday, 9:00 am: Al Jazeera English website reports that 6 of their reporters were arrested and released, but all their camera equipment remains seized.

Monday, 11:05 am: If you're unable to watch their live video stream, Al Jazeera is also covering the protests in a live blog, which you'll find over here.

Meanwhile, Egyptian state television is apparently airing cooking shows today.

There's also great, on-the-ground coverage coming from Sharif Kouddous, a senior producer with Democracy Now! You can follow his Twitter feed or read his posts over at The Nation. His most recent  article describes the scene yesterday in Cairo's Tahrir Square (the focal point for the protests). He also mentions the suspicions that much of the looting taking place over the last couple of days may be the work of state police and security forces trying to discredit what is looking more and more like a revolution.

Monday, 11:45 am: More interesting articles on the United States and what roll they should be playing in all of this.  Slate argues that Obama needs to push harder for Mubarak to resign because dictators suck and the U.S. has been supporting them for far too long.

They also point out that it was the United States who supplied not only the tear gas being used by the Egyptian authorities, but also the fighters jets that were intimidating protesters yesterday—and the tanks that Mubarak would unleash if he decided on (and could convince the army to carry out) a violent crack down.

Over on Foreign Policy they argree that Obama needs to openly call for Mubarak's resignation since it would also be the United States' best interests. Mubarak will never be able to go back to being a stable, respected player in the Middle East and since pretty much everything the United States touches in the region turns to shit, "this crisis in Egypt is an opportunity for the United States to rethink the underlying principles of the Pax Americana that Washington has sought to maintain in the Middle East for decades."

Tuesday, 12:24 pm: Hundreds of thousands of people marched through the streets of Cairo today, as the CBC reports. But Mubarak is still insisting that he has no plans to resign. Roads and railways leading into major cities were shut down in an attempt to limit the numbers of people attending marches, but despite those efforts, this is what Tahrir Square looked like today. (Tahrir, by the by, means "liberation".)

Tuesday, 12:48 pm: The last of Egypt's Internet service providers has gone down, according to the Canadian Press. But they also report that Google and Twitter are already finding ways for people to use social media without an Internet connection. They've teamed up to launch a service allowing people to phone in and leave a voice message with them, which is then turned into a tweet, in the hopes that it will help people stay in touch during the protests.

Tuesday, 1:25 pm: We're big fans of Foreign Policy and read it regularly even when there isn't a massive crisis going. Their in-depth features about the situation in Egypt continue to rock our pants off. We just  came across this article (from Friday) about how Obama's State Department has been working with sites like Facebook and Twitter to counteract the communication shutdowns both in Egypt and Tunisia. It seems it's something they've been actively involved in--and helping to fund--ever since the uprising in Iran, when they asked Twitter to reschedule their site maintenance around the protests.

They've also just posted a new piece called "America's Other Most Embarrassing Allies". Hosni Mubarak isn't the only authoritarian strongman the United States has been propping up in recent years; FP lists eight, from Saudi Arabia's Islamist gynophobe, King Abdullah, to Vietnam's Communist leader Nguyen Tan Dung.

Wednesday, 1:25 pm: Yesterday, Mubarak's announcement that he won't run for re-election this October was met with a general "Pfft, yeah, right, like that's good enough." Today, the protests continue, but now pro-Mubarak Egyptians have taken to the streets as well. The Toronto Star is reporting one dead and 500 injured as the opposing sides clashed in Tahrir Square.

The Internet, however, is back up.

Wednesday, 10:34 pm: There have been reports of many journalists in Cairo being targeted and beaten throughout the day, most notably CNN's Anderson Cooper. The CBC also reports that one of their cameramen was attacked. Earlier, Mubarek supporters charged protestors, wielding sticks and charging on camels and horses. Social Text Journal has some interesting points on the type of imagery being used by Mubarek's side:
 "This is deliberate Orientalist theater orchestrated by the state to promote a picture of generalized anti- modern anarchy for western media consumption"
Reports on Twitter in the last hour or so suggest escalating violence on Tahrir Square, where it appears that Mubarek has released armed "thugs" on the unarmed protestors in the square, who are now being shot at from the rooftops. As of 5:14 am, GMT+2, Al Jazeera English's live blog reports that ambulances are moving towards the bridge where protestors have been forced amid the gunfire.

Friday, 9:40 am: The New York Times has a piece on the difficulties and dangers that photographers have faced while following the protests in Egypt.

Photo: Egyptian protesters


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