Egypt Links

Events in Egypt have clearly gone past the “average Friday after mosque jihad” stage.

For tracking the events in Egypt, al-Jazeera seems to be the main TV coverage. [“Game over” image left-Tunisia, right-Egypt via al-Jazeera]

Live-blogging Egypt from a variety of sources.

The military has reportedly tried to stop the looting but has struggled on account of the chaos in the streets.  Al Jazeera has run what appears to be instantly iconic footage of a military officer standing on a tank, telling protesters that they are “honest men” and assuring them that he would gladly take off his uniform and join them, but he needs them to clear the streets after dark: “Demonstrate and express yourselves as much as you want, but at night clear the streets and let us handle the thugs.”

People in neighborhoods are forming volunteer protection committees and wearing white arm bands to identify each other. Pictures from Danny Ramadan, Syrian journalist in Cairo.  Sandmonkey is calling tweets to a friend in another country.

women carry sticks &join volunteer protection committees on the streets of Heliopolis. Ppl saluting army. It’s great. #Jan25 about 3 hours ago via web

Google transparency report detects internet blocking.  Egypt remains blocked.

Hillary’s statement. (Hillary is scheduled to speak about Egypt on 5 Sunday morning news programs tomorrow.)

…”We urge the Egyptian authorities to allow peaceful protests and to reverse the unprecedented steps it has taken to cut off communications. These protests underscore that there are deep grievances within Egyptian society and the Egyptian government needs to understand that violence will not make these grievances go away….”

Was there a conspiracy at the State Department to depose Mubarak?  Oh, those Wikileaks!…

The US government has previously been a supporter of Mr Mubarak’s regime. But the leaked documents show the extent to which America was offering support to pro-democracy activists in Egypt while publicly praising Mr Mubarak as an important ally in the Middle East.

In a secret diplomatic dispatch, sent on December 30 2008, Margaret Scobey, the US Ambassador to Cairo, recorded that opposition groups had allegedly drawn up secret plans for “regime change” to take place before elections, scheduled for September this year.

The memo, which Ambassador Scobey sent to the US Secretary of State in Washington DC, was marked “confidential” and headed: “April 6 activist on his US visit and regime change in Egypt.”

Economist’s viewpoint of cutting off communications networks:

The government in Egypt is cutting off communications networks, including mobile phones and the Internet.

The decision to get out and protest is a strategic one.  It’s privately costly and it pays off only if there is a critical mass of others who make the same commitment.  It can be very costly if that critical mass doesn’t materialize.

Communications networks affect coordination.  Before committing yourself you can talk to others, check Facebook and Twitter, and try to gauge the momentum of the protest.  These media aggregate private information about the rewards to a protest but its important to remember that this cuts two ways.

If it looks underwhelming you stay home.  And therefore so does everybody who gets similar information as you.  All of you benefit from avoiding protesting when the protest is likely to be unsuccessful.  What’s more, in these cases even the regime benefits enabling from private communication, because the protest loses steam.

Now consider the strategic situation when you lines of communication are cut and you are acting in ignorance of the will of others.  The first observation is that in these cases when the protest would have fizzled, without advance knowledge of this many people will go out and protest.  Many are worse off, including the regime.

The second observation is that even in those cases when protest coordination would have been amplified by private communication, shutting down communication may nevertheless have the same effect, perhaps even a stronger one.  There are two reasons for this. First, the regime’s decision to shut down communications networks is an informed one.  They wouldn’t bother taking such a costly and face-losing move if they didn’t think that a protest was a real threat.  The inference therefore, when you are in your home and you can’t call your friends and the internet is shut down is that the protest has a real chance of being effective.  The signal you get from this act by the regime substitutes for the positive signal you would have gotten had they not acted.

The other reason is that this signal is public.  Everyone knows that everyone knows … that the internet has shut down.  Instead of relying on the noisy private signal that you get from talking to your friends, now you know that everybody is seeing exactly the same thing and are emboldened in exactly the same way.  This removes a lot of the coordination uncertainty and strengthens your resolve to protest.


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