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Posted at 1:12 PM ET, 01/28/2011

How the U.S. can respond to Egypt's Internet blackout

By Sarah Lovenheim

Last fall I bookmarked Egyptian blogs to read. Thursday night, I revisited some of my favorites, only to find they had vanished. "Problem loading: The connection was reset," read one error message after another. And just like that, my access to Egypt became no better than any Egyptian's access to the rest of the world.

The Egyptian government cut off the country's Internet access late Thursday night ahead of what was expected to be the fourth and most intense day of protests against the regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, making it virtually impossible for the world to reach the nation of 80 million. Only a network used by the stock exchange and banks was allowed to stay live.

This is a very deep blow to the Egyptian people. There are more than 500 independent journalism publications in Egypt and more than 160,000 bloggers, and the nation boasts more opposition dailies than in any other Middle Eastern country.

Two-thirds of Egypt's population is under the age of 30, thousands of its citizens blog, and an estimated 3.4 million Egyptians are on Facebook. And according to OpenNet Initiative -- a site that tracks Internet freedom throughout the world -- more than 30 percent of Arabic-language blogs are Egyptian.

Now the question is whether -- after Egyptians have embraced America's democratic message by speaking out against their authoritarian government -- they will get help from the United States.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday that the U.S. would "support the universal rights of the Egyptian people, including the rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly."

Also Wednesday, her senior technology adviser, Alec Ross, said in an interview that the U.S. was doing everything it could with new media tools to communicate Clinton's message.

On Twitter, for example, Ross said the State Department used Egyptian-adopted hashtags of #Jan25 to make sure its tweets would reach those in the region.

The State Department was focused on "making sure that the Internet remains open to communication, collaboration and commerce," Ross said.

But Egypt's Internet blackout on Thursday evening, of course, made that impossible.

In a press briefing shortly after noon on Friday, Clinton said, "We want to continue to partner with Egypt but what will happen in Egypt is up to the Egyptians."

If the U.S. hopes to gain the respect of the Egyptians marching through the streets of Cairo, it must pursue an explicit policy of encouraging the Egyptian government to turn its Internet back on. Egyptians appear unable to achieve this alone.

It's also now time to double up on efforts in America to encourage the democratic movement when it's online again. This means urging support among the American people for the Egyptian democratic movement.

One model might be the U.S. efforts after the earthquake in Haiti -- sending text messages to about a million Americans asking for financial donations. The campaign raised more than $10 million. It's that same sort of speedy, bold initiative that the United States should now launch if it hopes to keep the Egyptian people as an ally. If Egypt's political earthquake is not reason enough to apply the same sort of efforts on display after Haiti's earthquake, I'm not sure what is.

These measures have the risk of alienating the Mubarak regime -- that's true. But given the state of the country, that could be a gamble worth taking. The U.S. needs to continue to strengthen its explicit support not only for the right of Egyptians to protest freely, but for their actual message -- they want a democratic government.

Cutting off Egyptians' Internet access -- more than what Iran did during its protests in 2010 -- shows how far the Mubarak regime will go to quash freedom of expression. But the Internet should come back online in Egypt hopefully soon. And it'll be crucial for Egyptians -- particularly the college students at the center of the protests -- to see that the U.S. stood by them in this historic moment.

By Sarah Lovenheim  | January 28, 2011; 1:12 PM ET
Categories:  Lovenheim  
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As usual American leaders are openly supporting the fascist regime of Mubarak. All these leaders have praised Mubarak for his help to America and Israel in the middle-east. Joe Biden has even said that Mubarak is NOT DICTATOR. Are we drunk in Arab OIL and Israeli power? If Mubarak is so great, why we cannot install him in our White House too.
In short, Muslim masses have found out the hypocrisy of America and the western world reading more than 1500 secret documents released by the Arab Press. Not only Mubarak but all the installed kings, presidents and dictators have to go along with American hegemony and our thirst of OIL and GREED,

Posted by: citysoilverizonnet | January 28, 2011 2:33 PM | Report abuse

You can respond by being darned worry about it. The left is talking about having a single internet ID number and emergency control over the internet now.

Posted by: Pilot1 | January 28, 2011 7:50 PM | Report abuse

There are 195 nations on earth. We have troops in 175 of them. We can't afford to stick our nose in everyone's business anymore and should therefore observe whatever happens in Egypt from a distance. Sorry Israel but maybe you should have either attempted to work with your neighbors or warned us about 9/11. We can't afford to carry you and your bronze age beliefs anymore.

Geez the zionist chapter of the tribe is coming out of the woodwork today.

Posted by: mot2win | January 28, 2011 8:29 PM | Report abuse

I'm concerned about the fact that whatever our country is saying in public they are usually supporting or doing the opposite behind the scenes. Be watchful America, they will do this to us in a NY minute.

Posted by: AZsez | January 28, 2011 11:16 PM | Report abuse

Obama and his czars are already talking about taking the internet from US citizens. E mail your congressmen and tell them to take the internet powers, and other powers Obama has deemed to himself, away from him.

Posted by: annnort | January 29, 2011 6:36 PM | Report abuse

Gotta love this guy. He is against a blackout of the Internet but wants the same type of control for our Internet/phones ?? Hmmm can we talk out both sides of our mouths and chew gum at the same time? The people want freedom and our government is against that ? OK I thought that we wanted freedom throughout the world. At least the last administration did.

Posted by: annieandpauldonovan | January 30, 2011 8:10 AM | Report abuse

More hamhanded foreign policy by this administration

Heck they early on they used mislabeled emergency syop switch as a prop for a reset button

The so-called “reset button” looked more like a deviceused as an”emergency stop” device (“Noodstop” in Dutch, “Notstop” in German) The average journalist has little real life experinece with this stuff (unless they notice a similar device at their local gas station)

Hilary proferred a “аварийной остановки ” device .. not a reset button

Quo warranto,B.O.?

Posted by: SlovenianWonder | January 30, 2011 8:48 AM | Report abuse

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