Egypt's National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (NTRA) has imposed new restrictions aimed at tightening control over the SMS messaging services provided by mobile phone companies and media institutions in an apparent effort to preempt possible anti-regime activism in the run-up to next month's parliamentary elections.
The CEO of one messaging service provider, speaking on condition of anonymity, noted that the NTRA had in recent weeks met with officials of the three mobile phone companies operating in Egypt--along with state security services--to inform them of the new regulations. He also said that special "controllers" had been mandated with monitoring text messages disseminated by the MB and by opposition youth movements.
SMS service providers based overseas, meanwhile, will be prohibited from offering the service in Egypt.
Some observers believe the new regulations aim to hinder the logistical capabilities of Egypt's political opposition, which has come to depend on SMS messaging to mobilize supporters for public protests and demonstrations. Over the course of the last year, both Internet and mobile-phone technologies proved central to efforts by Mohamed ElBaradei, a would-be independent presidential candidate, to collect millions of signatures in support of political reform.
International and local media watchdogs, meanwhile, have voiced concerns about what they see as diminishing press freedoms in Egypt following the dismissal of Al-Dostour Chief Editor--and vocal critic of the government--Ibrahim Eissa last week. And in early October, Egyptian authorities closed down Salafi-affiliated satellite television channel Al-Badr for allegedly inciting sectarian hatred.
What's more, authorities late last month closed the studios belonging to the Saudi-owned Orbit satellite television network, which had broadcast a popular political talk show--"Cairo Today"--hosted by Amr Adeeb, who is also known for openly criticizing senior Egyptian officials. Information Minister Anas al-Fiqqi, however, said the cancellation of the program had "no political dimension" and had only been due to to the network's failure to pay its bills.
According to government statistics, mobile phones constitute the fastest-growing means of communication in Egypt. In December of last year, the total number of Egyptian mobile-phone subscribers stood at 55.35 million, representing a 34-percent year-on-year increase.
The total number of Internet users in Egypt, meanwhile, has also increased markedly, from 14.9 million in mid-2009 to a current 19.7 million, according to figures released by the Egyptian Ministry of Communications and Information Technology.