Tag Archives: egypt

A New “Digital Cold War” Emerges

Last week in Dubai, Russia, China, the Arab countries, and much of Africa voted to end the Internet as an international , free and open space. They have voted instead to allow for the partitioning of the Net, in an effort to keep information – and people well regulated.

(From PCMAG.com)

“The Internet Society came to this meeting in the hopes that revisions to the treaty would focus on competition, liberalization, free flow of information and independent regulation – things that have clearly worked in the field of telecommunications,” she said. “Instead, these concepts seem to have been largely struck from the treaty text.”

Click here for the story.

Cyber War: Israeli Military Sites Under Mass Hack Attack

War is in cyberspace as much as it is in real space. Since mid-last week Israeli sites have been probed over 44 million times. Typically Israel is subject to a few hundred attempts per day.

In air conditioned bunkers filled with servers hackers chase each other back and forth through code and over social media.

The attached article reports that the Israeli Army has a presence in all sorts of social media, and Hamas is particularly effective in Twitter. Try using the hashtags #Hamas and #Gaza to see what is happening in real time. It’s pretty amazing. But I wouldn’t go any deeper than that.

Click here for the article.

Egyptian mothers take to the Internet

SuperMama, an Egyptian website designed to help new mothers and mothers-to-be with accurate pregnancy and motherly advice hasn’t even had its first birthday, but the site, brought to life by Yasmine El-Mehairy, has already won business competitions. The site reached 20,000 unique hits in its first month and attracted 2,000 members when it launched in October 2011. The bilingual Arabic and English site SuperMama is paving its way through the Arab world, dispelling old wives’ tales handed down from generation to generation while still respecting not only important advice from mother to daughter, but also religious views in the Middle East.

Our aim is to become, in the near future, the first website [of choice] for women in the Middle East and North Africa,” El-Mehairy says, and it looks as though she has her wish.

Ms. El-Mehairy came up with the idea for SuperMama after searching online for pregnancy advice for her sister-in-law in 2010 and finding conflicting views and advice on what she thought were outdated traditional wives’ tales. Realizing there was an online niche that needed to be filled, she and two colleagues, Zeinab Samir and Shereen El Sammaa, put together SuperMama—a website that is the “first of its kind in the Arab world.”

Though the site is still quite young, “SuperMama is projected to have an annual turnover of over $1.6m after its first year, making its money in the traditional online way: Selling advertisement banners, sponsorships, and product placements inside the articles and videos.” SuperMama also helps mothers with their budgets by offering special discounts through affiliate sales sites.

However, Ms. El-Mehairy says that the site isn’t just about money. “We didn’t want to have just another commercial product; we wanted an idea that made a difference.”

The site’s information is checked by healthcare professionals, whereas the existing chat forums had unverified information. One example El-Mehairy gave was “the idea that feeding honey to a baby in its first three months could result in disfiguration.” El-Mehairy says it is the site’s purpose and “responsibility to dispel such myths.”

SuperMama doesn’t work from one centralized location instead relying on a network of home-based network of researchers and writers. Administrators facilitate monthly meetings to decide upcoming topics and site content, and writers’ work is forwarded to specialists for verification before publication. The site’s specialists “include doctors, teachers, psychologists, nutritionists and exercise experts—all volunteers—who provide the essential final checks that enable the mothers” to preserve all the “knowledge that has been passed” down from generation to generation.

El-Mahairy took a huge risk in setting up the website, investing her life savings into the project.

She entered the MIT Arab Enterprise Forum Business Plan Competition, a place for Arab entrepreneurs to pitch business ideas. There were 3,800 applicants, and after hitting the top 30 semi-finalists with her business model for SuperMama, El-Mehairy made “invaluable contacts in the IT industry who helped develop the business model and pointed out its weaknesses.” She entered the site into other entrepreneur competitions, winning two more, and developed a network of investors and mentors.

Entrepreneurship and investment is on a slow rise in Egypt, but El-Mehairy thinks “there are promising signs as people return to the country after years away.”

“I think we as a country are new to this entrepreneurship, and therefore it’s going to take some time.”

The site remains non-religious and non-political, something El-Mehairy feels is extremely important. That way, no one across the Arab world is excluded from using the site. After one member became upset that the site and its community didn’t offer condolences after the violence in Tahrir Square in November 2011, El-Mehairy said: “For us what kept us through is that the other mothers on the site supported this argument and told that mother that we are a non-political and non-religious site and that this is a parenting site and not a place to discuss political issues.”

Yet the site is also a reflection of political and social changes happening in Egypt and throughout the Arab world. In the wake of Arab Spring uprisings that shook the status quo throughout 2011, women’s rights advocates have been pushing for greater recognition and participation for, and by, women in charting their countries’ futures. El-Mahairy’s model combines technological advances with the traditional roles of women in a smooth new model that can simultaneously give women a greater collective voice on issues that matter to them and promote development goals in a culturally appropriate way.

She has big plans for SuperMama’s future, to include “the expansion of current online tools which help mothers manage their time and budgets,” as well as directories of local services.

El-Mehairy has hopes that one day “the word SuperMama would be the first to jump into the mind of every mother or pregnant woman when looking for information.”

Censorship fallout from the Arab Spring?

Censorship fallout from the Arab Spring?

 

The use of ICT tools to drive reform protest movements captured the imaginations across North Africa and the Middle East. But it has also drawn the attention of repressive governments with an eye on censorship.

The use of Internet-based and other ICT tools to drive reform protest movements captured the imaginations of tech-savvy individuals across North Africa and the Middle East over the last year. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter helped drive street demonstrations in a dozen countries and secure international support for reform efforts around the world. But the trend has also drawn the attention of repressive governments and some within the ICT sector fear censorship battles may heat up in the aftermath of the Arab Spring.

Google Inc. Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt says his company fully expects to be the focus of disagreements with repressive regimes and fears Google employees may be at risk from detention and torture in some countries.

“I think this problem is going to get worse. The reason is that as the technology becomes more pervasive and as the citizenry becomes completely wired and the content gets localized to the language of the country, it becomes an issue like television,” Schmidt said at the Google-organized Dublin summit on militant violence this week.

“If you look at television in most of these countries, television is highly regulated because the leaders, partial dictators, half dictators or whatever you want to call them understand the power of television imagery to keep their citizenry in some bucket,” he continued.

Governments ramping up their efforts to shut down the information highway is something Internet service providers have been grappling with on and off for the last decade. Experience with China’s censorship efforts in particular has drawn significant attention. Yahoo! Inc. faced serious public backlash after its 2002 provision of user information led to the arrest, abuse and imprisonment of Wang Xiaoning.

Since then ICT sector players have clashed on and off with authorities in China, and elsewhere, as the tide of support for universal access has gained prominence. Both Google and Yahoo! are members of the multi-stakeholder Global Network Initiative, an effort to promote freedom of expression and privacy, and like other major ICT companies have initiated efforts to increase access to services in developing countries.

Earlier this month the United Nations affirmed its support of access to the Internet as a human right, with Special Rapporteur Frank La Rue issuing a report making the case for Internet access to enjoy the same legal protections under international standards as other methods of mass communications.

But the practical truth is that as long as authorities maintain control over networks and infrastructure, fully unhindered access to the Internet, its tools and information is still just dream for hundreds of millions of users worldwide.

The U.S. State Department confirmed shortly after the release of La Rue’s report that American authorities are investing millions to fund efforts to bypass government censorship through the use of “shadow” voice and digital communications networks that allow users to send information, according to the New York Times and other media. The benefit, say proponents of alternative networks, is that even in cases where dissidents can use circumvention technologies to sidestep censors, if authorities have slowed down network speeds users may still be unable to post most content.

A variety of innovative options are being considered – some of which sound like they could have come right out from Q’s workshop in a James Bond movie. Consider the following examples cited by the New York Times and other reports:

  • The suitcase project uses small wireless antennas and base stations disguised as suitcases, boxes or bags to help transform electronic devices like cellular telephones or laptop computers and build a wireless Internet network that is outside official control. If authorities seize a unit once a core network is established in an area the other stations will compensate.
  • U.S authorities are helping develop cellular telephone applications, or apps, such as the “panic button” which will erase a cellular telephone’s contact lists and emit an emergency signal to alert other activists.
  • Another idea seeks to build on the use of Bluetooth headsets, which Iranian dissidents have used to transmit data outside authorities’ control. Developers are looking to create a system that allows users to mark data so that when other trusted individuals come into range their mobile devices automatically get the transfer.

Until governments around the world cease efforts to restrict Internet access and the international community develops a legally enforceable mechanism to compel countries to comply, censorship circumvention efforts will remain at the forefront of the battle for fair, equitable universal global access.