What the Internet loses from Egypt’s disappearance

Last night at 20:54 UTC, Noor Group, the only remaining Internet service provider in Egypt with a consumer broadband service, depeered with the rest of the Internet. There are now only 12 Egyptian networks connected to the Net, none of which appear to be offering public connections.

One of the few links still remaining unconnected with the government or other country’s traffic passing through Egypt is that of the new Library of Alexandria, whose connectivity remains undisturbed, but whose librarian writes:

The library is safe thanks to Egypt’s youth, whether they be the staff of the Library or the representatives of the demonstrators, who are joining us in guarding the building from potential vandals and looters. I am there daily within the bounds of the curfew hours. However, the Library will be closed to the public for the next few days until the curfew is lifted and events unfold towards an end to the lawlessness and a move towards the resolution of the political issues that triggered the demonstrations.

One of the items held by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina is a snapshot archival copy of more than 10 billion pages from the Web from 1996-2007, deposited there by San Francisco’s Internet Archive. When I spoke to the Internet archivist, Brewster Kahle, a few years ago, he mentioned that, among other reasons, he had made the donation as a protective backup in case anything happened to San Francisco.

The loss of the Egyptian Internet is a loss to the wider Net, too. The Internet itself is resilient to disruption, but even it is not unaffected. Egypt’s disappearance has had effects outside the country. When Egypt vanished, the main name server for all domains ending in “.eg”, no matter where they are hosted in the world, became inaccessible. Secondary servers for “.eg” in Austria and the United States have taken up the slack, but are relying on old data provided by the main server before the shutdown. That data is slowly going out of date, and will be invalid in 140 days. The Arabic language top level domain, .misr or .مصر , has no secondary servers outside the country. All Internet addresses ending in this domain are now inaccessible.

Alexandria’s backup of the Web still remains online. It looks like the Egyptian Ministry of Communications and Information Technology has chosen to keep some of its own networks online, as well as those of the Bank of Egypt. But all other Net users, including thousands of journalists unable to reach alternative forms of communication, continue to be silenced by Egyptian authorities.