Vodafone Accuses Cairo of Co-opting Network

Vodafone, the world’s biggest mobile operator by revenue, was told by the government last week to switch off its network in Egypt after the anti-Mubarak protests broke out.

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The international mobile operator Vodafone yesterday accused the Egyptian authorities of using its network to send pro-government text messages to subscribers.

The complaint is an escalation of the involvement of Egypt’s telecommunications providers in the escalating crisis. Another mobile boss, the chief executive of Orascom Telecom , protested against President Hosni Mubarak’s rule in the main Cairo square yesterday and said any damage to his company arising the unrest was a price worth paying.

Egyptian anti-government protesters praying in Cairo’s Tahrir Square yesterday.Credit: AP

Vodafone, the world’s biggest mobile operator by revenue, was told by the government last week to switch off its network in Egypt after the anti-Mubarak protests broke out. Other operators were also forced to cut their service, and rights groups have heavily criticized the development.

Vodafone said at the time that it had no choice and yesterday it stepped up its attack, saying it was being forced to send text messages without making clear the attribution. “The current situation regarding these messages is unacceptable,” it said.

Vodafone said the Egyptian authorities had instructed the mobile networks of Mobinil, Etisalat and Vodafone to send messages to the people of Egypt and had been doing so since the protests broke out against President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule.

One text message sent on February 2, seen by Reuters, announced the location and timing for a mass demonstration to support Mubarak.

Network crash

Vodafone chief executive officer Vittorio Colao told reporters yesterday that voice calls had been switched off for 24 hours in Egypt last Friday. He also said that data services which allow access to the Internet had been down for five days, and that text messages were still down for subscribers.

A source familiar with the situation told Reuters the authorities had ordered Vodafone to switch the network back on, for just long enough to send the messages. Etisalat was not available to comment and e-mails and phone calls to Mobinil executives were not returned.

Mobinil is jointly owned by Orascom and France Telecom.

“These messages are not scripted by any of the mobile network operators,” Vodafone said.
Khaled Bichara, the chief executive of another major telecom firm Orascom, was seen by a Reuters reporter in the main Tahrir, or Liberation, Square, protesting against Mubarak’s rule. Asked on BBC TV if his firm was suffering from the protests, Bichara said: “Of course, but sometimes that’s the price to pay.”

He later told Reuters by telephone that if the authorities objected to his conduct they could call on his boss to sack him. “I am there in a personal capacity,” he said. “I am the CEO of Orascom Telecom. I have no licenses in the company I work for. The licenses are for the company, not the person, so if they are not happy they can call my boss and he can fire me and that’s about it.”

Naguib Sawiris, a well known businessman whose holding company owns more than half of Cairo-based Orascom, told Reuters earlier this week Mubarak needed to make an “honorable exit.”



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