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Egyptian operators outraged over anonymous government propaganda texts

Two of the largest mobile operators in the Egypt have criticised the drastic security measures enforced by the country’s ailing government in the face of ongoing unrest. Vodafone Egypt and Mobinil have explained that the invocation of the measures left them with no choice but to disseminate pro-government text messages to their subscribers.

During a week of protests to voice public disapproval of Egypt’s government, mobile networks were temporarily suspended before being reactivated – largely, it seems, as a means of distributing government propaganda.

Vodafone has revealed that it was obliged by special legislation in the country’s Telecom Act to send messages to its subscribers anonymously. Details on the content of the messages were also provided, with one message apparently originating from the army; another attempted to rally favour for President Hosni Mubarak, detailing a proposed demonstration in support of the country’s leader.

The operator has condemned the interference, labelling it “unacceptable” and stating that “all messages should be transparent and clearly attributable to the originator.” Vodafone’s Egyptian network is a joint venture with Telecom Egypt, a state-run operator.

Vittorio Colao, CEO of Vodafone Group, has stated the firm’s intent to reinstate text messaging as soon as it receives government permission to do so, saying: "We are in a continuous battle with the government on our services, on keeping our services up.”

Mobinil’s parent company France Telecom also expressed its outrage at the partisan text messages, stating that it “strongly disapproves of any message of a political nature that runs against the neutrality principle which defines our role as a network operator." The firm’s CEO Stephane Richard provided insight into how the incident occurred, saying: “when armed police arrive at your offices there is not much one can do.”

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