Foreign Policy Blogs

Egypt blocks social media websites in attempted clampdown on unrest

Internet sites such as Twitter and Facebook were cut off within Egypt today as the government of President Hosni Mubarak tried to prevent social media from being used to foment unrest.

Many sites registered in Egypt could not be reached from outside, according to, a website where users report access problems.

Twitter, YouTube, Hotmail, Google, Chinese search engine Baidu and a “proxy service” – which would allow users to evade obvious restrictions – appeared to be blocked from inside the country, according to reports on the site.

Twitter said blocking was intermittent and some users were able to tweet while Bambuser, a Swedish site for streaming video from mobile phones, said it had been blocked after being used by some protesters this week.

About 24%, or 19.2 million, of Egypt’s 80 million population have internet access, usually through internet cafes, mobile internet or “public information technology clubs”. About 1m have home access via computer.

Far more people – about 26 million – have mobile phones, so protests could be organised via text message. Vodafone, one of the two largest mobile phone operators there, said it was not responsible for blocking Twitter. “It’s a problem all over Egypt and we are waiting for a solution.”

Other reports say the government has disabled mobile phone towers and the telephone service, and that all communications have been disrupted. This could not be confirmed.

The government could order internet service providers to filter out services or block sites, but usually cracks down on writers and bloggers. In 2009 the Committee to Protect Journalists listed Egypt as one of the 10 worst countries for bloggers because of the tendency to arrest critics.

The government might have ordered the military to commandeer communications centres, leading to the blocking.

But any piecemeal attempt to identify sites being used to organise protests or beam video to the outside world will inevitably lead to a cat and mouse game between the authorities and protesters, who will be able to stay one step ahead.

Meanwhile, Egyptian government websites were targeted in return by Anonymous, the group of hackers who take on opponents they see as unpopular or oppressive. Reports suggested that a number of official sites had been hacked or put offline.