Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

A Very Short Letter From a Friend in Cairo

For the last few days I’d been trying to reach an old friend and graduate school classmate named Abdalla, who lives in Cairo. As you might have guessed, I didn’t hear back. I assumed, correctly, that he was unable to check his email or receive the voice mail messages I’d left on his wireless phone.

Today I heard back from him. His sister, who lives in New York, had checked his messages for him, and kindly replied to my email messages. She then gave me the number of a wireless phone he has that is for one reason or another able to send and receive text messages.

I sent a message to that number and heard back from him, mere minutes after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had finished giving the speech in which he said he wouldn’t be a candidate in the forthcoming election in September.

It is one thing to see the media reports that have been emerging from that country, but quite another to hear from someone you know on the ground, especially under the difficult communications circumstances that the government has imposed. Because of that, his terse messages feel all the more precious.

In response to my first message he wrote:

Hosni Mubarak is clinging to power despite everything. There is a lot of impatience among Egyptians for him to leave office now. Protests are intensifying and they are drawing bigger crowds. I am working on some filming.

I replied that I thought at first the people would be feeling victorious following Mubarak’s announcement. He replied back:

They want him to leave this minute! They don’t want him to stall. He is already 20 steps behind the demands of the street. His time is up. Mubarak is in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh. But if he were in Cairo, he would have fled the country by now, fearing protesters might charge the presidential palace.

I sent another reply containing the phone numbers for Speak2Tweet, the service Google and Twitter launched yesterday that allows people in Egypt with working phone lines to leave audio messages that are then broadcast to the world via Twitter. That Twitter account has now carried more than 1,000 messages from people in Egypt, some of which, like the one from the young woman below, are in English. Judging by her tone, events there have yet to reach their conclusion.

For those messages not in English, some volunteers have been translating the messages into English and publishing them into a continuously updated spreadsheet on Google Docs. This effort in turn led to a site called “Alive in Egypt,” where SayNow messages continue to be translated and transcribed.

I haven’t heard back from Abdulla after his last message. Now that Mubarak has pledged to leave office in September, there is as yet no information about when Egypt’s communications infrastructure will be restored to a normal operating posture.

Meanwhile, the folks at Internet research firm Renesys, who have so deftly tracked the finer technical details of Egypt’s disappearance from the Internet, have produced yet another visualization of the peculiar event as it unfolded. The video below is a minute-by-minute graphical representation of Egypt’s four major Internet service companies as they went dark. In a new blog post, they point out that what you’re watching is the silencing of the voices of 80 million people. One of them is my friend.

[Image Via: SheKnows]

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First the NSA came for, well, jeez pretty much everybody’s data at this point, and I said nothing because wait how does this joke work

— Parker Higgins via Twitter