Despite the development of the technology sector, the growth of the market and its openness to private companies, the Egyptian State has kept control over the telecommunications and broadcast infrastructure for the past twenty years, mostly through Telecom Egypt and TV Satellites. With the adoption of the Cybercrimes Act in 2108, it has extended its direct authority to control online content as well.
Privatisation of the telecommunications sector and the development of the Internet (1997-2003)
The Internet was first introduced in Egypt in 1992 through the Egyptian Universities network (EUN). At that time, the number of Internet users was very limited, as the infrastructure was not adapted to the use of the Arabic language. There was no Egypt-specific news website at first, but a number of limited Arabic websites appeared, such as the Jordanian website Arabi and the Qatari Al Jazeera.
In 1998, mobile service began operating in Egypt, with Mobinil and Vodafone, while Telecom Egypt remained the only land-line provider and the owner of international portals, leasing its infrastructure to the various telecommunications companies. Local Internet Service Provider (ISP) developed rapidly in the early 2000s to the extent that the Egyptian government launched the free Internet service in Cairo in 2002, cooperating with 17 ISPs on the initiative called “A Computer for Every Home”, sponsored by Telecom Egypt and the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology. It was then extended to the whole country.
Regulation and political change (2003-2006)
To face this rapid development of the use of digital technologies, the National Telecom Regulatory Authority (NTRA) was established in 2003. As a government-owned and approved authority, it is in charge of attributing licenses for telecommunication companies and regulating the competition. As such, it is also regulating satellite TV.
In 2004, the Egyptian government launched the ADSL initiative in partnership with private companies to reduce the cost of the Internet access and increase its speed. It quickly became one of the main channels for activists to advocate for democratization and political change. The blogosphere emerged in Egypt in 2003 when personal computers were still relatively scarce and there were only about three million Internet users in Egypt. With the reduction of costs, blogs started to flourish and youth took off to dominate the space. Egyptian cyberactivists discovered new social media platforms to advance their causes and they were also early adopters of Twitter and Facebook.
Revolutionary technology (2007 – 2013)
The 3G technology was first introduced in 2007 when Etisalat entered the mobile market. At the time, there were only 3 million Internet users in Egypt (Radsch, 2016). Three companies (Mobinil, Etisalat and Vodafone) started to offer mobile Internet, but Telecom Egypt continued to control the landlines and telecommunications infrastructure. Introduced in 2006, Facebook and Twitter became even more popular, influencing the course of Egyptian public opinion. Facebook especially was a way of organizing and mobilizing collective action. For example in 2010, the Facebook page "We are all Khaled Saeed" appeared, and called for demonstrations against torture on January 25, 2011 that ignited the Revolution.
During the uprising, the Egyptian government blocked the Internet for the first time. With the events that followed, all mobile communication was also being cut. Egyptians then had to fall back to the landline service controlled by the State, allegedly prone to surveillance. It was reported at the time that Egyptian security forces imported devices and software to spy on users and to control the online space. As a direct consequence and a try to legalize this repressive practice towards Internet users, a law was drafted in 2015 to fight cybercrime. A revised version of that law was finally passed in 2018, allowing the presidentially appointed the Supreme Council for Media Regulation (SCMR) to monitor and “supervise” all users with more than 5000 followers on social media platforms.
4G and a new era of repression (2013-present)
In 2017, the 4G technology was introduced to the country with Telecom Egypt's entering the mobile market for the first time. Orange France acquired the private company Mobinil in 2017 offering 4G Technology as well. Meanwhile, the government practices large-scale blocking, bringing the number of sites unavailable in Egypt to over 500 – including the ones of Reporters without Borders, with no legal ground for action. This led the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression to raise grave concerns over the government ongoing assault on freedom of expression in 2017.
Today, Egypt has the largest number of direct-to-home (DTH) satellite channels in the Arab region. At the same time, mobile operators witness a shift from using voice services – formerly known as telephone – to Internet applications. Media consumption habits are changing as the predominantly young viewership is increasingly spending time online, in competition with the so-called traditional TV. As such, the adoption of the 2018 Cybercrimes Act is not only providing legal ground for sanctions over websites, but also over the mobile TV content slowly replacing satellite TV.
While Radsch (2016) mentions that there were 3 million Internet users in Egypt in 2007, several sources and experts estimate that this number was closer to 5 million. However, there is no official available data to prove it.
National Telecom Regulatory Authority (2017). Telecom Revolution in Egypt - Annual report.
National Telecom Regulatory Authority. NTRA In Brief.
Arab Republic of Egypt Ministry of Communications and Information Technology. Telecommunications
OHCHR (2017). Egypt extends its assault on freedom of expression by blocking dozens of websites – UN experts warn.
Association for Freedom of Thoughts and Expression – AFTE (2018). Isolation.. The cutting of communication during the January 2011 revolution. Accessed on 18 October 2018.
Association for Freedom of Thoughts and Expression - AFTE (2018). Egyptian Parliament approves Cybercrime Law legalizing the blocking of websites and full surveillance of Egyptians. Accessed on 18 October 2018.
FIDH (2018). Egypt: a repression made in France. Accessed on 18 October 2018.
American Chamber of Egypt (2017). Conference about the MENA Digital TV Industry: Optimum Monetization Model.
Tesquet, O. (2017). Amesys: Egyptian trials and tribulations of a French digital arms dealer. Télérama. Accessed on 18 October 2018.
Radsch, C. (2016). Cyberactivism and Citizen Journalism in Egypt. Digital Dissidence and Political Change. Palgrave Macmillan US - pp 1- 56.
International Telecommunication Union (2012). Switching from analogue to digital television. The big picture in the Arab region. Accessed on 18 October 2018.