Following the government’s announcement last month that the U.S. would transfer Internet control to the “global Internet community,” more light than ever before has been shed on the agency responsible for managing the Internet — including that one of its key leaders is the former official responsible for shutting down Egypt’s Internet during the Arab Spring revolution in 2011.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which manages and secures the global Internet under the Commerce Department, hired former Egyptian Minister of Communications and Information Technology Tarek Kamel to serve as the senior adviser to ICANN’s president in 2012.
Kamel was the recipient of global criticism in January and February 2011 for his part in shutting down Egypt’s Internet along with Egypt’s State Security Intelligence Service at the height of the revolution, which succeeded in overthrowing the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak.
“It is astonishing because Egypt has so much potentially to lose in terms of credibility with the Internet community and the economic world,” Internet monitoring agency Renesys’ Chief Technology Officer Jim Cowie told SFGate in 2011. “It will set Egypt back for years in terms of its hopes of becoming a regional Internet power.”
The shutdown, which occurred in varying degrees from Jan. 28 to Feb. 5 and included cutting off Internet and SMS services to Egypt’s stock exchanges, major banks, airlines and government agencies cost Egypt’s telecommunications sector a minimum of $110 million according to Forbes, and cost the tourism industry at least $1 billion according to former Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman.
“Give the order to reconnect Egypt to the global Internet, and to drop all remaining blocks on wireless networks,” former White House Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer Andrew McLaughlin wrote to Kamel during the shutdown.
“Unless you act now, in your final hours as Minister, to reverse the Internet cutoff, your name will forever be associated with an unprecedented human rights violation on a national scale, and an economic catastrophe triggered by a shortsighted regime’s drive for self-preservation,” McLaughlin said.
During a meeting called by Kamel with executives to assess the damage done as a result of the shutdown, British telecommunications company Vodafone — one of the major Internet service providers that was shut down and commandeered — said it moved hundreds of call center jobs to New Zealand as a result of the government’s actions.
“The people of Egypt have rights that are universal. That includes the right to peaceful assembly and association, the right to free speech and the ability to determine their own destiny,” President Obama said in a speech during the shutdown.
“These are human rights and the United States will stand up for them everywhere. I also call upon the Egyptian government to reverse the actions that they’ve taken to interfere with access to the Internet, to cellphone service and to social networks that do so much to connect people in the 21st century,” Obama said.
Kamel helped organize one of the first ICANN global Internet coordination conferences in Cairo in 2000. As the senior adviser to ICANN President Fadi Chehadé, Kamel is chiefly responsible for reaching out to foreign nations regarding Internet governance for ICANN.
The U.S. Department of Commerce announced it would relinquish the management of ICANN that it has maintained since 2000 to a global, multi-stakeholder governance model in fall 2015. The announcement has sparked a flurry of concern and criticism from current and former high-ranking government officials from the State Department to the White House with worries over the future of Internet privacy, security, economics, freedom and censorship without U.S. oversight.