Did Egypt Really ‘Shut Off’ the Internet?

  • Share
  • Read Later
(Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters)

Not totally. But as of 12:30 a.m. (local time) last night, there was almost no Internet traffic going into or out of the country.

In what one blogger called “an action unprecedented in Internet history,” Egypt, a country of 80 million, has been nearly severed from the Web.”Egypt has apparently done what many technologists thought was unthinkable for any country with a major Internet economy: It unplugged itself entirely from the Internet to try and silence dissent,” notes the AP.

(More from TIME.com: See dramatic photographs of demonstrations in Cairo.)

With most international connections disabled, Egyptians won’t be able to connect to Web sites with servers based overseas. They should, however, be able to connect domestically. In essence, it appears their Internet is working like an Intranet, with just a few bits of information trickling through.

The near-blackout comes after days of demonstrations against the 30-year rule of Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak. As TIME reported Jan. 24, Egyptians have been using Websites like Facebook to help organize protests. Cutting or limiting access to sites like Facebook and Twitter may be an attempt to quash unrest, particularly among the young.

Though the technical details of the block are still emerging, Jim Cowie of Renesys, an Internet-monitoring firm, notes that the situation in Egypt appears to be quite different and, effectively, quite worse, than other recent digital crackdowns. “This is a completely different situation from the modest Internet manipulation that took place in Tunisia, where specific routes were blocked, or Iran, where the Internet stayed up in a rate-limited form designed to make Internet connectivity painfully slow,” he writes. “The Egyptian government’s actions tonight have essentially wiped their country from the global map.”

It’s worth noting that the blackout is not, in Newsfeed’s estimation, entirely unprecedented:  In July 2009, China shut down Internet service in the autonomous region of Xinjiang following ethnic clashes. So welcome, Egypt, to the digital police club.

(From TIME.com: Read TIME’s take on the return of Mohamed ElBaradei.)