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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Internet shutdown in Egypt violates human rights

Every human is endowed with certain inalienable rights, but is Internet access one of them?

Human rights are by no means a novel concept. They have existed for centuries. But when the Magna Carta was drafted in 1215 and the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights nearly 800 years later, no one had any idea that humankind’s existence would one day depend on a massive system of interconnected computer networks.

It may sound absurd on its face, but in today’s society, Internet access is a fundamental human right, one that is instrumental in exercising the right to peaceably assemble.

Nowhere else in the world are people fighting harder to preserve this right than in Egypt, where thousands have taken to the streets to protest the country’s 30-year-old autocratic government, whose list of human rights violations is as long as the Nile.

On the eve of the largest pro-democracy demonstration in the nation’s history, the regime of Hosni Mubarak temporarily shut down all online communications within the country. This action, unprecedented in the Internet’s history, was taken shortly after the Associated Press published a video of an Egyptian protester being gunned down.

We’ve seen in the past how important the Internet is as a medium of communication in mass demonstrations of this kind. During the Iranian “”Green Revolution”” of 2009, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites helped rally international support for the movement and played a pivotal role in the mobilization effort.

But not even Tehran forced the country’s service providers to shut down all connections to the Internet.

Communication is fundamental to human existence. The Egyptian government’s attempt to silence its people during the last few days by barring Internet access is an affront to democracy and a testament to the regime’s blatant disregard for human rights.  

Fortunately, the shutdown has proven largely unsuccessful. A handful of networks in Egypt still managed to remain connected, providing international news outlets with a steady stream of information regarding the ongoing unrest within the country. Eyewitness reports, cell phone videos and pictures of the tumult have flashed across computer monitors and television screens around the world.

Egypt’s Internet shutdown may not have been a human rights violation of the highest degree, but it was a violation nonetheless and should be recognized as such.

The right to Internet access is fast becoming the human rights issue of this generation and will have to be addressed at one point or another. Finland and Estonia were the first two countries in the world to officially recognize it as a human right and they certainly won’t be the last.

A BBC World Service Survey found that 78 percent of urban Egyptians believe access to the Internet is a fundamental human right, which pales in comparison to countries like South Korea and Mexico where more than 90 percent of population say they believe this.

The Internet serves as more than just a medium of communication. It is the vital link between every human and the rest of the global community. The Mubarak Administration’s now infamous internet shutdown should bring us closer to realizing that access to the internet is a right that should guaranteed to all.

— Nyles Kendall is a political science junior. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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