Egypt: Internet cut ahead of Friday protests


Egypt cut off the country's internet service in what looks like an attempt to disrupt plans for massive new protests on Friday.

The government also sent out an elite special operations force to take up position in strategic places around Cairo like Tahir Square, which saw some of the biggest protests on Jan. 25.

Cutting off the internet threatens to weaken an opposition that began with no leaders but built its strength in numbers thanks to online organizing.  The protesters have used new media tools to rally those angry with President Hosni Mubarak's authoritarian regime.

The government quickly recognized this and began blocking access to social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter Wednesday, disrupting cell phone text messaging and BlackBerry Messenger services and then completely shutting down the internet. About 25 percent of Egypt's population uses the internet, according to BBC News.

The Burmese government similarly shut down its internet during massive nationwide protests organized by monks in 2007.

Meanwhile, Nobel laureate and opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei returned to Egypt Thursday and vowed to support the protests and become the transitional leader if necessary.

"I wish that we didn't have to go to the streets to impress on the regime that they need to change," ElBaradei told reporters after arriving in Cairo. "There is no going back. I hope the regime stops the violence, stops detaining people, stops torturing people."

Egyptians differ on their view of ElBaradei, who had been living in Vienna.

"ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency who has sought to refashion himself as pro-democracy campaigner in his homeland, is viewed by some supporters as capable of uniting the country’s fractious opposition and offering an alternative to Mr. Mubarak’s authoritarian rule. Critics view him as an opportunist who has spent too little time in the country to take control of a movement which began without his leadership," states The New York Times.

He will also be in Egypt in time for Friday's protests, which are expected to be huge. The Muslim Brotherhood plans on joining the protests. They will take place after the Friday prayers.

The government claims to have arrested 800 people, but some human rights groups say the number is closer to 2,000. Human Rights Watch demanded in a statement that Egyptian authorities only use force when necessary at the Jan. 28 protests.

"The Egyptian authorities should allow protesters to exercise their right to assemble and protest peacefully," according to Joe Stork at Human Rights Watch. "Instead, protesters have met with exactly the kind of heavy-handed abuse and repression that people are protesting against."

Listen to this shocking audio of a Guardian journalist being arrested and beaten by police.

See these striking photographs of the protests.

Here is a GlobalPost primer on the recent unrest across the Middle East and North Africa.

Read this GlobalPost dispatch on the roots of the protests in Egypt.

Watch this raw footage from AP showing a man being shot by Egyptian authorities:


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