Internet in Egypt
The Internet in Egypt is an important part of daily life, as a majority of the population has access to Internet, via smartphones, Internet cafes, or at home. Broadband Internet access via ADSL is widespread. However, Internet censorship and surveillance was severe under the rule of Hosni Mubarak, culminating in a total shutdown of the Internet in Egypt during the 2011 Revolution. Though Internet access was restored following Mubarak's ouster, government censorship and surveillance have increased since the 2013 coup d'état, leading U.S. NGO Freedom House to downgrade Egypt's Internet freedom ranking from "partly free" in 2011 to "not free" in 2015.
- 1 Penetration
- 2 Broadband access
- 3 Internet exchange points
- 4 Fair usage policy debate
- 5 Performance improvement
- 6 2008 marine cable damage
- 7 Censorship
- 8 Social media usage
- 9 Internet Revolution Egypt
- 10 See also
- 11 References
Egypt's Internet penetration rate grew from less than one percent in 2000, to 5% in 2004, 24% in 2009, and 54.6% in 2014. As the information and communications technology (ICT) sector continues to grow, Egypt's spending on ICT reached $9.8 billion in 2008 and was expected to increase to $13.5 billion by 2011.
As part of the Egyptian government's ambitious program to expand access to ICT, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT), National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (NTRA), Egyptian National Post Organization (ENPO) and Computer and Software Department at the Federation of Egyptian Chambers of Commerce signed an agreement to spread personal computers for every home in August 2008. The agreement is the second phase of a 2002 initiative and is part of the MCIT's strategy of increasing ICT use throughout Egypt, focusing on socio-economically disadvantaged communities. The initiative includes offering discounts on computers and 512 kbit/s ADSL subscriptions for three years.
Telecommunications companies also work to enable users to access Internet content. For example, Vodafone Egypt, which has 15 million subscribers, announced in August 2008 that it will buy a majority share in Sarmady Communications (Sarcom), an online and mobile content provider. The move was widely seen as part of a wider strategy to dominate Egypt's Internet market by providing both Internet service and content to customers.
Telecom Egypt (now rebranded to WE), which has a monopoly in the fixed-line telephone sector, owns a 45 percent stake in Vodafone Egypt and had 11.3 million fixed-line subscribers at the end of June 2008. Telecom Egypt leases parts of its network to other Egyptian mobile operators, who use it to provide calls between mobile to fixed-line phones, as well as international calls. In 2008 the government announced it would sell a second fixed-line license, ending Telecom Egypt's monopoly, but plans to do so have repeatedly been delayed.
Almost a million Egyptian households have access to broadband due to sharing of ADSL lines. Of these, 63.4 percent share the connection with their neighbors; 81.9 percent of households that share lines share them with more than three other households. Egypt had more than 400,000 ADSL lines by the end of 2007, 75 percent of which are residential. More than one fourth of Egyptian Internet users visit Internet cafés to get online.
Broadband Internet access was introduced commercially to Egypt in 2000 as ADSL. The service was offered in select central offices in big cities such as Cairo and Alexandria and gradually spread to cover more Governorates of Egypt. There are numerous (220 according to regulatory authority numbers) Internet service providers (ISPs) in Egypt offering an ADSL service. Seven companies own the infrastructure and they are called class A ISPs: (Egynet, LINKdotNET, TE Data, NOL, Vodafone data, Noor communication and Yalla). Etisalat Egypt has bought both NileOnline and Egynet to expand their Internet presence. They sell to class B ISPs which, in turn, sell to the rest of the 208 ISPs.
Broadband connections in Egypt vary in quality. The quality depends on the distance from the central loop office, the presence of the ISP in that local loop, and the quality of the copper telephone line on which the broadband connection is carried. Internationally, Egypt is currently served with three international submarine cables. namely, FLAG, SEA-ME-WE 3 and SEA-ME-WE 4. but after the mass information blackout of early 2008, with the announcement of Telecom Egypt owned cable TE North and Orascom telecom owned MENA. several other projects are planned to improve the resilience of the international broadband.
Internet exchange points
Egypt has two Internet exchange points: Cairo Regional Internet Exchange (CR-IX) and Middle East Internet Exchange (MEIX), the former carrying international, as well as domestic, services. Reports related to the 2011 Internet shutdown in Egypt refer to the "Ramses Exchange" as the location where the shut down was effected. The Ramses Exchange, located on Ramses Street near the center of Cairo is the main "wire center" for Telecom Egypt, carrying not only municipal telecommunications traffic, but also serving as the main point of entry for international submarine fiber-optic circuits, back-hauled from landing stations near Alexandria. The Ramses Exchange is also the location of the CR-IX, the largest Internet exchange in North Africa or the Middle East.
Fair usage policy debate
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The Minister of Communications and Information Technology, Tarek Kamel, said in the July 2007 news that the ADSL would be turned from Unlimited to Limited with a Quota at a starting price of 45 LE (Egyptian pounds) for the 256k/64k and a 2GB limit for the download and so on. Due to the widespread use of local line sharing that limited ISPs' subscribers and increased the burden of traffic upon the network. However, almost all the ADSL users, especially the students and users of unlimited ADSL, refused the offer. Most users had come to the conclusion that, if this plan were to be imposed, they would cancel their subscriptions because they wanted the Internet to be unlimited as is.
The plan was to start the limited ADSL Packages on 1 September 2007. It turned out that Tarek Kamel was to aim specific offerings at different price ranges for different individuals unable to subscribe to an unlimited package. As such, the unlimited packages remained as is, and available through all major ISPs with no changes in price, while the limited ADSL price ranges are now offered at a discounted price. with the existing unlimited policies with no fair usage policy except for ADSL2+
Introduction of ADSL2+
In April 2008, ADSL2+ was introduced in Egypt at speeds up to 24mbit. Now most ISPs have capped all the unlimited ADSL offerings to a quota of between 100GB and 200GB per month, calling it a Fair usage policy. All speeds from 1mbit/256k up to 24mbit are capped to up to 200GB per month. ISPs stated that the 200GB quota was huge and users could download up to 60 large movies, 10,000 large songs, browse endlessly and send up to 2 million e-mails a month. Most users are divided upon this capping especially those who are heavy P2P users. Going above the monthly quota would result in throttling speed of 512kbit/s for the rest of the month.
There is an alternative offer from 512k to 24mbit ranging from 2GB a month to 200GB a month as a fair usage coverage with reduced prices to encourage low range users to the uptake of broadband.
Confusion about capping
Most ISPs, even though are capped to 40-150GB a month, still claim the offers as unlimited. Also, companies use vague and inconclusive responses about the Fair Usage Policy and its implementation of different packages. The ISP's websites got the FUP in English and placed in hard-to-navigate places plus most of the technical support and representatives are denying that any FUP is in place, which is felt by the end user to be in place, possibly in fear of customers canceling their subscriptions at the thought of being capped.
The service has improved dramatically as of late, in terms of performance, during the whole of 2007 till now due to the investment of all parties involved in the providing of Internet in infrastructure heavily. according to NTRA the total international bandwidth at the end of 2009 is 90458Mb and number of ports 970557. which is seeing a dramatic increase from the first quarter of 2009 of only 16,995 Mb.
2008 marine cable damage
On 30 January 2008 the Internet service in Egypt and the Middle East was affected by a breakage of the two marine cables, FLAG and SMW4, connecting Egypt to the world. TE Data users were not totally disconnected from the Internet, as the company had a third international gateway to the Internet, SMW3. However, they suffered from reduced bandwidth until the issue was resolved. The local National Telecom Authority issued a decision for all ISPs to offer a free of charge month to all clients as a compensation for the reduced quality of service during the outage.
While the Internet in Egypt was not directly censored under the regime of President Hosni Mubarak, his regime kept watch on the most critical bloggers and regularly arrested them. Censorship at a technological level during that time was largely in the form of optional filters offered by Egyptian ISPs to block pornography; TE Data offers Internet services with content controls which eliminate "all of the Internet's indecent content that might affect your children".
In August 2009 the OpenNet Initiative reported finding no evidence of Internet filtering in Egypt in any of the four areas it monitors (political, social, conflict/security, and Internet tools). Using data and information gathered during 2010, the status of Internet freedom in Egypt was classified as "Partly Free" in Freedom on the Net 2011 by Freedom House.
The outcome of the 2011 Egyptian revolution was initially interpreted as a chance to establish greater freedom of expression in Egypt, especially online. Reflecting these dramatic changes and opportunities in Egypt, in March 2011 Reporters Without Borders moved Egypt from its "Internet Enemies" list to its countries "under surveillance" list.
In March 2012 Reporters Without Borders reported:
The first anniversary of Egypt’s revolution was celebrated in a climate of uncertainty and tension between a contested military power, a protest movement attempting to get its second wind, and triumphant Islamists. Bloggers and netizens critical of the army have been harassed, threatened, and sometimes arrested.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which has been leading the country since February 2011, has not only perpetuated Hosni Mubarak’s ways of controlling information, but has strengthened them. Numerous journalists and bloggers seeking to expose the abuses committed during the pro-democratic uprising by certain elements of the Army or the military police have been prosecuted before military courts, and sometimes jailed for several months.
Censorship prior to 2011
In 2005 Egyptian authorities continued to both encourage and place restrictions on the use of the Internet. For example, in February, Egypt's Ministry of Interior ordered Internet café managers and owners to record their customers' names and ID numbers and threatened to close the cafés if they refused to comply. This action was condemned by the Cairo-based Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, which described it as "a gross violation to the right to privacy". In August 2008, authorities increased the level of surveillance by demanding that Internet café customers provide their names, e-mail addresses, and phone numbers in order to receive a text message on their cell phones containing a PIN that they can use to access the Internet.
As the Egyptian blogosphere continued to grow, so did the government's crackdown on bloggers and Internet users. For example, blogger Abdel Kareem Nabil Suleiman Amer ("Kareem Amer") was sentenced in February 2007 to four years in prison for "incitement to hatred of Islam" on his blog and for insulting the president. He has since become the symbol of online repression for the country's bloggers. Other Egyptian bloggers have also been arrested for their online activities, and some have been sentenced to prison. One example is Mohamed Refaat, editor of the blog Matabbat (matabbat.blogspot.com), who was arrested in August 2008 under the state emergency law. He was charged with "offending the state institutions, destabilizing public security, and inciting others to demonstrate and strike via the Internet".
In a landmark 2007 legal case, an administrative court rejected a lawsuit brought by a judge calling for the banning of 49 Web sites in Egypt. The court emphasized the support for freedom of expression as long as such Web sites do not harm the beliefs or public order. However, in May 2009, a Cairo court ruled that the Egyptian government must ban access to pornographic Web sites, because they are deemed offensive to religion and society's values. The suit was filed by a lawyer who pointed to an Egyptian man and his wife who were sentenced to prison for starting a swingers club via the Internet as an example of "the dangers posed by such offensive Web sites". It remains to be seen whether the authorities will enforce this court order.
Egypt has witnessed an increase in the use of Facebook for social activism, which alerted the government to the potential force of the site. As a result, there were rumors that it might be blocked, especially after a group of activists managed to recruit supporters using Facebook for the 2008 Egyptian general strike protesting against rising food prices and President Hosni Mubarak's government.
On 28 March 2011, military officers arrested the 25-year-old blogger, Maikel Nabil, at his home in Cairo. The military prosecutor charged him with "insulting the military establishment" and "spreading false information" for blogs that criticized the army's role during anti-government protests. On 10 April a military court sentenced Nabil to three years in prison, in what Human Rights Watch called a serious setback to freedom of expression in post-Mubarak Egypt. Not only was the sentence severe, but it was imposed on a civilian by a military tribunal after an unfair trial. Along with close to 2,000 other detainees, he was granted a pardon and released on 24 January 2012 after spending ten months behind bars. Immediately after his release, he once more began to challenge the legitimacy of the armed forces and criticizing their record on the eve of the first anniversary of Egypt's revolution.
Another online activist who continued to challenge Egypt's censorship policies was Khaled Said, a young Alexandrian man who was beaten to death by police in June 2010 for posting a video on the Internet that exposed police corruption. His death inspired the creation of the Facebook page "We are All Khaled Said," which became a mobilizing and organizing online space. Other online activists were arrested and unjustly detained - including Wael Ghoneim, the founder and moderator of the "We are All Khaled Said" Facebook page.
Foreign assistance in surveillance
2011 Internet shutdown
On January 27, various reports claimed that access to the Internet in the entire country had been shut down. The authorities responsible achieved this by shutting down the country's official Domain Name System, in an attempt to stop mobilization for anti-government protests. Later reports stated that almost all BGP announcements out of the country had been withdrawn, almost completely disconnecting the country from the global Internet, with only a single major provider, Noor Data Networks, remained up. And while Noor continued to operate for several days, its routes started to be withdrawn at 20:46 UTC on 31 January.
It was later reported that the five major Egyptian service providers—Telecom Egypt, Vodafone Egypt/Raya, Link Egypt, Etisalat Misr, and Internet Egypt—all went dark one after the other between 22:12 and 22:25 UTC (12:12–12:25 am. Friday 28 January Cairo time). As a result, approximately 93% of all Egyptian networks were unreachable by late afternoon. The shutdown happened within the space of a few tens of minutes, not instantaneously, which was interpreted as companies receiving phone calls one at a time, ordering them to shut down access, rather than an automated system taking all providers down at once.
Analysis by BGPMon showed that only 26 BGP routes of the 2903 registered routes to Egyptian networks remained active after the blackout was first noticed; thus an estimated 88% of the whole Egyptian network was disconnected. RIPE NCC has two graphs of routing activity from Egypt, announcements/withdrawals and available prefixes, including a snapshot of activity during the shutdown.
Shortly after the Internet shutdown, engineers at Google, Twitter, and SayNow, a voice-messaging startup company acquired by Google in January, announced the Speak To Tweet service. Google stated in its official blog that the goal of the service was to assist Egyptian protesters in staying connected during the Internet shutdown. Users could phone in a tweet by leaving a voicemail and use the Twitter hashtag #Egypt. These tweets can be accessed without an Internet connection by dialing the same designated phone numbers. Those with Internet access can listen to the tweets by visiting twitter.com/speak2tweet.
Internet service providers such as the French Data Network (FDN) provided free (zero-cost) dial-up access to Egyptians with landline (analogue) international telephone access. FDN provided the service as a matter of principle, to "contribute to the freedom of expression of the Egyptian people and allow them to keep a connection with the rest of the world."
The people of Egypt have rights that are universal. That includes the right to peaceful assembly and association, the right to free speech and the ability to determine their own destiny. These are human rights and the United States will stand up for them everywhere. I also call upon the Egyptian government to reverse the actions that they've taken to interfere with access to the internet, to cellphone service and to social networks that do so much to connect people in the 21st century.
On February 2, connectivity was re-established by the four main Egyptian service providers. A week later, the heavy filtering that occurred at the height of the revolution had ended and bloggers and online activists who had been arrested were released.
Increased censorship and surveillance after the July 3 coup d'état
The Egyptian government has intensified efforts after the overthrow of Morsi to bolster its ability to intercept and monitor messages and data sent over the internet, affecting with the digital security tools that facilitate secure communication channels. In many cases, these disturbances have completely or partially disabled the encryption services widely used by commercial and civil services and individuals to secure the flow of their data.
Awareness of the interference did not gain traction among the wider public until December 2016, when users suddenly discovered that Signal, the messaging and voice calling application supported by Open Whisper Systems' encryption protocol, had stopped working in Egypt. Digital security experts contend that they had faced similar problems months before, a fact that led some information security companies to halt the collection of monthly fees pending a resolution.
Indications that the Egyptian government has made attempts to acquire technology that would allow it greater surveillance of communication networks have surfaced several times. The most notable revelation came about as result of a July 2015 data breach when an unknown individual hacked the Milan-based information technology company HackingTeam's computer system. Around 400 gigabytes of data – including emails, contracts, bills and budgets involving the company and Egyptian security and intelligence authorities – were made accessible to the public.
In concert with other evidence, the leaked documents show that Egyptian authorities were attempting to acquire technology that would allow them to collect information on specific users of interest through directed surveillance.
The first problem that companies and specialists faced that indicated Egyptian security agencies may be targeting the infrastructure of the entire network arose in August 2016. Technicians noted that access to Secure Shell (SSH) – a protocol to provide secure communication channels across unsecured public networks and provided by different online services providers – had been obstructed. SSH protocol provided by US company DigitalOcean is used daily in the management of millions of communication processes that occur over the internet.
In response to the obstruction, DigitialOcean's users and clients began to contact the company. In a response to a client's inquiry, which was obtained by Mada Masr, DigitalOcean wrote that the interrupted service was not the result of a technical error but had been deliberately caused:
Since you're physically in Egypt, there's not much we would be able to do to prevent them from messing with your traffic... Your government is performing DPI [Deep packet inspection] and is messing somehow with these secure connections.
Data is most often transferred over the internet in small network packets that are "repackaged" and made legible on the recipient's side. Deep packet inspection intercepts the data and examines the identity of communicators, as well as the content of this communication at an inspection point between the sender and recipient. The U.S. company added that they contacted both Egyptian service provider TEData and the Egyptian government to inquire about the interruption.
Days after the interruption in the SSH protocol was detected, access to HTTPS was temporarily blocked. HTTPS is a protocol to securely transfer hypertexts, which constitute the core units of all web pages. The protocol continued to operate without interruption for internet giants like Facebook and Google but was completely blocked for all other websites.
The Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) – an international network operating under the Tor Project that monitors internet censorship, traffic manipulation and signs of surveillance – decided to launch a thorough investigation in August into what was happening in Egypt at the request of technical experts in the country. In October 2016, OONI published a report that confirmed much of what the independent tests had pointed to, as well as DigitalOcean's assessment.
The report indicates that the Tor anonymity network appeared to be interfered with in Egypt, while HTTPS connections to DigitalOcean's Frankfurt data center were throttled. The OONI report also asserted that the access to pornography websites appeared to be interfered with via in-band TCP packet injections of advertisement and malware content, and that the temporary blocking of The New Arab's website led to the blocking of specific content (such as images) of other sites that are hosted on the same content distribution network (CDN) as The New Arab. Freedom House has reported that other VPN and proxy services intended to circumvent censorship, including TunnelBear, CyberGhost, Hotspot Shield, TigerVPN, and ZenVPN have been blocked as well.
In June 2017, Egypt banned at least 62 websites in a crackdown, including Daily Sabah, Medium, Al Jazeera, The Huffington Post, and Mada Masr along with opposition websites, like El-Badil, for containing material that "support terrorism and extremism as well as publish lies". The crackdown was condemned by the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE), Mada Masr and by the Index on Censorship. The ATFE stated that "the blocking of websites violates the Egyptian Constitution". By October, that figure had climbed to 434 banned websites, including the sites of many opposition organizations and activists.
Similarly, social media pages have been shut down or had content removed or their administrators arrested by the Egyptian government. While Facebook, Google, and Twitter have not reported receiving formal takedown requests from the government, government supporters have reported dozens of satirical anti-government Facebook pages for violating the site's community standards. President Sisi's statement that "with the assistance of two web brigades, I can shut down thepages, take them over and make them my own.” led many Egyptian commentators to believe that the takedowns had official support. In December 2016, the Egyptian Ministry of the Interior claimed to have shut down 163 Facebook pages and arrested 14 administrators.
Voice-over-IP (VoIP) service—including WhatsApp, Skype, Viber, Facetime, and Facebook Messenger—have been intermittently blocked on mobile networks by the NTRA since 2013, though disruptions to VoIP have been reported as early as 2010. The NTRA initially claimed that it was blocking VoIP services for economic reasons but became more explicit about the political and security purpose of its blocking in 2015.
The government has shut down Internet and phone networks in the Sinai on multiple occasions since 2014, ostensibly as part of its conflict against the ongoing Islamist Sinai insurgency. These localized shutdowns are timed to coincide with military operations, although their counterinsurgency effectiveness is limited because of insurgents' widespread usage of workarounds such as walkie talkies and portable Broadband Global Area Network terminals. However, the shutdowns block emergency calls, preventing civilians from obtaining treatment for combat wounds and in several cases preventing women who went into labor from reaching the hospital.
Persecutions of Egyptians for online activities
A number of Egyptians have been arrested, detained, or imprisoned for their posts on social media. Reasons given for these detentions and prosecutions include spreading fake news, inciting violence, insulting the president, and "contempt of religion," and sentences have been as severe as five years in prison. Though arrests initially only targeted known activists and members of opposition groups, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, in 2017 the government began going after unaffiliated Egyptians who criticized the government. 
Anti-government bloggers are also often intimidated or harassed by pro-government individuals and news sites. April 6 Movement founder and activist Esraa Abdel Fattah had personal photos, emails, and recordings of phone calls posted on social media without her consent in 2017, for example. As of 2018, independent media editors can be arrested for maintaining a news site without a license.
LGBT Egyptians became the target of a particularly fierce crackdown in 2017, after several Egyptians were arrested for sharing images of a rainbow flag flying at a Mashrou’ Leila concert in Cairo. Though homosexuality is legal in Egypt, LGBT Egyptians are charged with "debauchery and immorality." Fifty seven LGBT Egyptians were arrested by October 2017, with ten of them being sentenced to between one and six years in prison. This crackdown follows similar efforts by Egyptian police to use Grindr, a dating app for gay men, to entrap gay Egyptians. This practice began in 2014 but is still occurring as of 2017.
Social media usage
A major use of social media in Egypt in recent years has been for political activism and revolutions, and the two most-used websites in Egypt in 2010 were Google and Facebook. Social media sites like Facebook allowed liberal, minority, and religious groups to make communication networks and mobilize protests, as can be seen with the Egyptian Revolution of 2011. After the government began restricting Internet use, protesters still used social media to stay connected. Recently, Egyptian police have been using social media, such as Grindr, to find and arrest homosexual men.
Internet Revolution Egypt
Internet Revolution Egypt (IRE) is a cyber-protest against the Internet services provided in Egypt for which Telecom Egypt has a monopoly, which occurred in early 2014. The protest mainly took place on Facebook through a page created by young Egyptians; some activity was also seen on Twitter as well. Users within the group were mainly within the 18 to 24 age group. The main Facebook page, has reached more than one million followers and continues to expand. This significant expansion resulted in a wide media attention at the time. In response to some accusations by certain media outlets, the protest stated that it does not have any relation to politics. The slogan used by the protests is "الأنترنت عندنا في مصر; غالي جدا , بطئ ببشاعة .. خدمة عملاء زي الزفت", which means "The internet services in Egypt; are very expensive, terribly slow .. The customer service is terrible." in Arabic.
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