Monday, January 31, 2011

Economists Say Egypt’s Media Blackout Due to Unpaid Bills From Cuts in Aid

CAIRO, Egypt -- Flared tensions have turned to widespread chaos with a throng of Egyptians calling for the ouster of 82-year-old President Hosni Mubarak, whom they charge with 30 years of oppressive rule under a rigged, undemocratic election process. However, many view Mubarak, a secular leader, as strong on fighting religious discrimination and Islamic terrorism in the region. They also worry that Mubarak’s departure will lead to joblessness and economic decline. But liberals in the United States have focused solely on what they call Egypt’s “chilling communications blackout,” which sets a “dangerous global precedent.”

Liberal media organization accused Egypt’s government of “responding to pro-democracy protests by shutting down media.” Conservative political experts claim that the demonstrations in Egypt are overblown.

Those on the right say that Egypt is an example of one of the most thriving democracies in the Middle East.

“They have a democratic process with open elections,” one pundit observed. “Mubarak has been re-elected for three decades -- a generation, by dictionary definition. That couldn’t have happened if he wasn’t as adored and effective a president.”

Egypt’s military pledged not to fire on protesters. Liberals took that as a sign that army support for President Hosni Mubarak may be unraveling on the eve of a million people planning to demand the authoritarian leader’s ouster. But they blamed business interests in the region for circumventing free speech by cutting access to electronic media. Conservatives cried foul and said that Mubarak’s government had not shut down the Internet or any other communications systems.

“There are millions of people abandoning their jobs to demonstrate,” an insider at the State Department said. “So who’s running the Internet there? Who’s manning the news cameras? Who’s sitting at home uploading cell phone videos of the event onto Hulu or Vimeo? No one. That’s all this is.”

The Bennington Vale Evening Transcript attempted to contact sources in Cairo, but for some reason we were unable to connect to the Internet servers there or get emails through. We also attempted to call, but the phone services were down as well. Given the popularity of iPhone 4 in the region, we assume that the dropped calls have something to do with AT&T network coverage issues.

U.S. officials have been reluctant to offer commentary or opinion on the festering turmoil in Egypt. Mubarak is a staunch U.S. ally. His country receives $1.3 annually from the United States to maintain security and military forces. However, in terms of economic aid, the United States has been forced to cut its support to $200 million.

Said one economic advisor from the USAID, “With the cuts in aid we’ve been forced to make as a result of our own financial crisis, it’s likely that Egypt just couldn’t afford to pay its broadband bills. Their services may have been temporarily disconnected. As soon as we can mail a check over to them, in addition to the late charges and reconnection fees, we should be able to examine the bloody aftermath of the protests and the institution of martial law on YouTube sometime next month.”