Internet Didn't Cause the Riots: Why Egypt's Web Shutdown Won't Work

Egypt's president shut down the Internet on Friday to try to calm the protests rocking the country.Have social networks become weapons of revolution? Pundits are speculating that this may be the case in Egypt, where massive riots -- often organized via social networks like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube -- caused Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to shut down the Internet on Friday.

The move is aimed at throttling the forums that are giving voice to the discontent rocking the Middle Eastern country. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the move "unprecedented" and urge Egypt's government to reverse course. And hackers are already posting instructions on how to get around these blocks, underscoring the likely futility of these efforts at censorship.

Social networks, such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, are hugely popular among young people, who are using them to help fuel the rage in the Middle East. Their popularity makes these networks effective communication tools, especially considering the region's abundance of young people.

The median age of Egyptians is 24 years old, according to the CIA World Fact Book, compared to a median age of 36.8 years old in the U.S. In Tunisia, where protests led to President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali's departure from office earlier this month, the median age of the population is 29.7. And in Iran, which erupted in protests last year, the population's median age is 26.3.

The Internet Isn't the Cause

But while social networks may give discontented residents an easy way to air their concerns, they can't be blamed for causing the underlying conditions behind the protests. Taking away the Internet doesn't change the fact that Egyptians still have plenty to complain about.

Although the economy remains fairly strong, the living conditions for many Egyptians remain poor and unemployment remains high among the young. Corruption remains epidemic. A 2009 study found that 47% of small and mid-sized businesses admitted to bribing public officials.

"Even educated Egyptians find it difficult to land jobs in either the public sector (which has been shrinking) or the private sector (for which their educations have ill prepared them)," writes J. Scott Carpenter and David Schenker of the Washington Institute of Near Eastern Policy. "The vast majority of the country's more than 80 million people subsist on less than $4 per day. Meanwhile, the cost of living has steadily climbed as the government has pursued aggressive macroeconomic reform, which has earned plaudits from the International Monetary Fund, but resulted in remarkably little trickle-down."

Similar Conditions

These are some of the same conditions that have sparked uprisings in other countries in the past. In Tunisia, for example, U.S. officials ignored widespread corruption and nepotism for years. Unemployment, at 14% last year, also remained a vexing problem for the educated middle class. And Tunisians grew tired of the Mafia-like rule of recently ousted President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and his relatives. Many other Middle Eastern countries face similar issues.

In Egypt, Mubarek, who assumed power in 1981, is trying to tighten his control over the media as citizens take to the streets of Cairo and Alexandria. This strategy is hardly a new one: Soviet Union leaders regularly jammed shortwave signals from the Voice of America and the BBC, and Chinese officials routinely censor broadcasts from foreign news organizations.

But these tactics aren't foolproof. Forbidden news can evade even the best-designed censorship networks. Last year, PC World reported that an underground website was successfully operating from inside the hermetic nation of North Korea.

And social networks make the job of totalitarian regimes even harder. "The open exchange of information can have a positive global impact," Twitter says on its corporate blog. "This is both a practical and ethical belief. On a practical level, we simply cannot review all 100 million-plus Tweets created and subsequently delivered every day."

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Everyone who sees my comment here knows and understands the Internet better than I do. I am 83 years old, quite deaf, and very nearly blind. Why do I dare to comment in this company, at all ?

Because I want reassurance that, in some degree, You Readers' Generation are using the knowledge and powers available to you, better than mine did . I don't know if you are better people than we were. But you are surely better-informed than we were. Willingness to listen to each other ? I DON'T KNOW. Patience and sobriety enough to avoid snap-judgements and to use wisely the unprecedented powers at your disposal ? I DON'T KNOW.

I tale little comfort from learning that Egypt's ruler has "shut down the Internet," or that such output FROM us TO other countries can, has been, and will again be, blocked . . . .at someone's whim. To one who watched newsreels on the Nazis' burning unwelcome books with Hitler's consent, and other similar events since, I want reassurance that no one can thus control, limit, or bias what we need to know in order to respond constructively. And I want with equal intensity, reassurance that, in protecting our OWN information sources, we are not, at the same time, "doing to others, etc.etc.etc."

I have yet to see my month-old great-grandson. Wish me luck and give me news, friends !

January 31 2011 at 1:26 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

it's not face book,tweeter or any other social media.It is the 30 years of pure corruption of Egyptian government like the corrupt banks and financial loaners in the US!!! !!!The same way the financial corruption destroy the the global economy!!!
Each and every US cities are in deep trouble and can never balance their budget!!!
USPS will and can't wait to let go hundreds of thousands of employees and the unemployment rate will fly up!!!!
Oil will be $100/barrel by Friday!!!!,if all out civil war breaks out with Iran and AL quida makes things worst.

January 30 2011 at 11:33 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

I thought this article was about Egypt trying to block the internet.

January 30 2011 at 11:14 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

All you right wing paid posters are out tonight.
Must be due to the raise you just got.
"Can't fix stupid". ESP. when you're paid so well to nurture it.

January 30 2011 at 11:13 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

I would like to start off by stating, please forgive us for voting for our
idiot-in-chief. But thanks to the internet we've found out the real Obama.

January 30 2011 at 9:32 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to tomgold125's comment

ooooooooooooooooh c'mon HERE----you just NOW gotta isp ? never had a radiO either ?

January 30 2011 at 9:38 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Obama's worst nightmare is an informed public. In Obama's community antagonizer
days he loved the open society and freedom. Now he'd love to shut down his
opposition. Now he doesn't like freedom and openness. Two more years of this
unqualified man in the white house.

January 30 2011 at 9:24 PM Report abuse +10 rate up rate down Reply

Same when the liberal media made out Obama to be something special. Wouldn't
allow any truth to come out about Obama. They tried to hide his large defects.
Thank you internet. Obama is a monster/marxist. Wants to destroy the US from

January 30 2011 at 9:16 PM Report abuse +10 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to tomgold125's comment

pinged ya anyway BUT lib media ? entire lamestream mediyuuuuh's responsible and complicit in not printing one iota of truth on HIM and his chURch ,associates,friends or the years from his so-called hawaiian YEARS in indonesia,madras.indoctrination,etc and the simple factS that thOm ayers and family SENT for him etcetc right down to NEVER BEING thomas ayers sent for obama for another facet of this HOAX and fraud.

January 30 2011 at 9:37 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Remember another DEMOCAT named AL GORE said he invented the internet

January 30 2011 at 8:29 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply

It is interesting that the President told Mubarek to not shut down the Internet and other media, yet his Administration is working on the "kill switch" which is designed to shut down the internet and other media in an "emergency" What a hypocrite.

January 30 2011 at 6:37 PM Report abuse +11 rate up rate down Reply
4 replies to sgrimes889's comment

I'm working on NET2 which will replace the current internet if it becomes compromised. NET2 has a wireless leg that uses mobile servers that can't be unplugged. They look like Winebagos, Piggly Wiggly tractor trailers, anything.
The internet is for good things, not bad....Al-

January 30 2011 at 5:44 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply