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Fearful of revolution, China blocks news of Egypt protests including the word “Egypt”

Posted by Author on January 31, 2011

CHINA’S powerful propaganda department is trying to block non-official news about the bloody riots shaking Egypt.

The Government has stopped the use of the country’s name across a popular Twitter-like blogging site and restricting the reporting of events there.

Authorities have blocked the Chinese characters for Egypt on Sina.com’s Weibo site, used by more than 50 million of China’s 400 million netizens.

The Egyptian news has been played down in the Chinese media, being relegated to the second page of the country’s major website and portals. Newspapers all carry the state-run Xinhua version of the story.
The Chinese authorities are sensitive to offshore revolutions against authoritarian governments, fearing such movements might spread to China.

Local street protests have been swelling over corruption, the income gap between rich and poor, and heavy-handed security operations such as evictions to make way for development projects.

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The internet has been a key tool in spreading the protest messages from Iran, Tunisia and now Egypt. China largely blamed the use of Twitter and other social networking sites for helping to foment the deadly riots during July 2009 in the ethnic Muslim province of Xinjiang, when 197 people were killed and thousands injured. Following the unrest, China pioneered the wholesale blocking of the internet, leaving Xinjiang province — home to 23 million people — cut off for eight months.

Egypt has followed this lead, shutting down the internet last Thursday just after midnight, as well as mobile phone access.

Jim Cowie, co-founder and chief technology officer of Renesys, a company that analyses how the internet is performing around the world, said the notion that Egypt had an internet “kill switch” was not realistic.

He told Digits magazine he was not aware how Egypt shut down the web, but outlined a possible scenario based on his knowledge of how the internet is structured.

“Somebody in the government gives a phone call to a small number of people and says, ‘Turn it off’. And then one engineer at each service provider logs into the equipment and changes the configuration of how the traffic should flow.”

Mr Cowie said Egypt’s internet providers shut down their networks at intervals of minutes, beginning with Telecom Egypt at 12.12.43am. This suggests the decision to shut down was made about midnight and each operator was notified in succession.

Internet providers pay international carriers to transmit internet data via undersea cables. Ordinarily, the large providers announce via computer code that they will accept and send transmissions. But late Thursday, the code simply switched to denial mode, blocking communications.

The Australian

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