Egypt Forced Mobile Carriers to Send Messages ,Demonstrations in Egypt

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Egypt Forced Mobile Carriers to Send Messages

Egyptian authorities used emergency powers to instruct mobile operators to send text messages to their Egyptian customers, the latest example of how communications in the country are being affected by the continuing unrest.

Vodafone Group PLC of Britain, Egypt's largest carrier by subscribers, and Egyptian Co. for Mobile Services, or Mobinil, both said they had been required to send short message service, or SMS, to customers in Egypt, even while text-messaging services overall remain down throughout the country.

"Under the emergency powers provisions of the Telecoms Act, the Egyptian authorities can instruct the mobile networks of Mobinil, Etisalat and Vodafone to send messages to the people of Egypt," Vodafone said in a statement on its website.

Vodafone said the authorities had done so since the start of the protests in the country, and that the messages weren't scripted by any of the operators.

"Vodafone Group has protested to the authorities that the current situation regarding these messages is unacceptable," the statement said. "We have made clear that all messages should be transparent and clearly attributable to the originator."

In a separate statement Mobinil also said it had been "required by the Egyptian Army to send text messages to its customers. Messages of a national-security and general-safety nature were the only messages processed by Mobinil."

Subscribers of Etisalat Egypt, a subsidiary of U.A.E.-based Emirates Telecommunications Corp., on Wednesday received Arabic-language SMS messages that read: "To every mother, father, brother and sister, to every honorable citizen, take care of this country for this nation lasts forever."

Another SMS message sent Tuesday across the network by Mobinil said: "This is a message from the Egyptian Armed Forces: Egyptian youth beware of rumors and listen to the voice of reason. Egypt is above everyone so protect it."

It wasn't clear how the messages were sent nor from where they originated. Earlier Thursday Mobinil confirmed that SMS services in Egypt remained down, a day after the state restored Internet services that had previously been cut amid the widespread political unrest.

Etisalat Egypt wasn't available to comment on the SMS issue. France Télécom, a shareholder in Mobinil, which it jointly owns with Orascom Telecom, in a later statement said it "strongly disapproves of any message of a political nature that runs against the neutrality principle which defines our role as a network operator."

Vodafone declined to comment beyond the statement posted on its website.

Late last week, Egypt took the unprecedented step of severing the majority of Internet connections and shutting down its cellphone services, with the cooperation of international firms.

Mobile voice services, however, were restored Saturday.

"We would like to make it clear that the authorities in Egypt have the technical capability to close our network, and if they had done so it would have taken much longer to restore services to our customers," Vodafone said at the time.

"It has been clear to us that there were no legal or practical options open to Vodafone, or any of the mobile operators in Egypt, but to comply with the demands of the authorities," Vodafone also said at the time the voice services were restored, adding that its other priority is the safety of its employees and "any action we take in Egypt will be judged in light of their continuing wellbeing."

—Ruth Bender in Paris, Lilly Vitorovich in London and Tamer El-Ghobashy in Cairo contributed to this report

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