The economic impact of Egypt’s protests and Internet shutdown
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TEXT OF INTERVIEW
Kai Ryssdal: Had it been a normal Friday in the Muslim world, today was, in theory, a day of prayer in Cairo, Egypt. Hopes for that went out the window yesterday afternoon, though, when the Egyptian government cut off Internet access to essentially the entire country. Twitter and Facebook have gone dark. Cell phone and texting services have been shut down.
That’s the corporate story in all of this. Marwan Kraidy teaches media and politics at the University of Pennsylvania at the Annenberg School there. Welcome to the program.
Marwan Kraidy: My pleasure.
Ryssdal: It’s certainly seems, based on what we’re seeing on the televisions, that the protests haven’t really suffered for lack of social media. People are still figuring out ways to get together and get out there.
Kraidy: No, they haven’t. And, in fact, I think this is going to lead us to question our assumptions about the actual impact of social media in these kinds of riots.
Ryssdal: Play that out a little bit. I mean, I don’t think it could have started without social media, right? But at one point, it becomes such a movement.
Kraidy: Exactly. It started with a lot of Facebook work among some activists, but once the movement took momentum on the streets, I think even with all social media shut down, Blackberry services shut down, text messaging services shut down, it doesn’t seem the movement is dying out at all.
Ryssdal: Do we think, then, that it will be more likely or less likely that governments will just shut down these social-media movements at the very start of things?
Kraidy: It could mean that it’s more likely that they would be tempted to do that. Shutting down Facebook is one thing, but shutting down cell phone service and Blackberry service really hurts the business community, even some government operations.
Ryssdal: Tell me more about that. I mean, Vodafone has been criticized for agreeing to the governments demands to shut it down. But you’re saying, I think, that the government’s, in fact, maybe hurting the Egyptian business community.
Kraidy: Absolutely. For one thing, the big businesses that own these phone companies, telecommunications sector, tend to be on friendly terms with the government. So they tend to lose a lot, perhaps, if there’s some serious political change. So they will support the government. The question is, though, what happens to the business community when one day, two days, three days maybe it’s fine, but on the long term this is unsustainable.
Ryssdal: This ability of people to organize themselves and to use these tools that companies are providing — it allows a manifestation, right, a frustration of economic, pent-up demand, I mean of all of those things.
Kraidy: Absolutely. The economic aspect of this is very, very strong. People are hungry. People are poor. People are angry. We have a lot of college graduates, universities functioning very well. People graduate. They’re smart. They’re ambitious. They can’t get a job, so that’s very important. And in addition to that, you have political repression. So if you look at the slogans of these demonstrations, they really combine the economic and the political.
Ryssdal: Is there a sense, then, of how long this might play out economically once the protests in the streets have died down?
Kraidy: Well the question to answer before this one is how long will the protests take before they die down with what outcome? Because the outcome could be that it’s just going to die out, or the outcome could be that they will die out, but with significant reform in the government — which looks not very likely at the moment. Or it could mean that there’s a new government and a completely new political system in place. So it really depends on how long this takes. I mean, what we do know so far, for instance, the Egyptian stock market went down 10 percent — the biggest one-day drop in a couple of years. We do know there’s a lot of fear about oil because of the Suez Canal. 2.5 million barrels go through the canal every day. We do know some rating agencies have already downgraded Egypt. And so the economic situation here, we’re just getting started. And it’s been, what, more than 24 hours without social media. We show no sign of anything slowing down.
Ryssdal: Marwan Kraidy is a professor of communications at the Annenberg School at the University of Pennsylvania. Thanks so much for your time.
Kraidy: Thank you, Kai.
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