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EGYPT: Cyber war among possible presidential candidates

August 6, 2010 |  8:13 am


Egypt's political cyber war is intensifying after hackers played havoc with the Facebook page of Gamal Mubarak, the son of President Hosni Mubarak and a possible presidential contender in 2011.

The hackers posted a new group photo of Gamal with a red X running through his face and a message in Arabic: “You are not welcome, neither is your father.” The photo was inserted over the original, which featured no X and carried the slogan, "Yes for Gamal Mubarak.”

Hacking into the Facebook page of a high-ranking National Democratic Party official, not to mention the president's son, is a new chapter in the cyber battles between the anticipated candidates in the upcoming presidential elections. The attack on Gamal Mubarak's page, which has 4,000 members, came a few days after supporters launched a campaign urging him to run.

Other politicians have tested the Internet waters. Ayman Nour, founder of El Ghad opposition party launched an anti-Gamal Mubarak campaign under the slogan “Egypt is too big for you.” A Facebook page attached to the campaign drew 2,000 followers in one week. Admittedly, those numbers are tiny in a country where more than 16 million people have Internet access, but they may reflect a desire for new forms of political communication.    

Some Egyptians are turning to social media websites, such as Facebook and Twitter, to circumvent the country's emergency law, which for nearly 30 years has prohibited widespread political expression. For example, earlier this week 15 activists were detained in Alexandria while trying to hang posters in support of the “Together for Change” petition issued by opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei.

The newspaper Almasry Alyoum described the increased cyber activity as an “electronic stock market.”  ElBaradei, the former chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, appears to lead the cyber race, with more than 455,000 people signing his “petition for change” online, according to Almasry Alyoum.

Hamdeen Sabahi, a member of parliament, came in second, with 10,000 people signing his petition. Nour is in the third place, with more than 9,000 supporters on his Facebook group

The role of cyberspace politics is expected to grow through 2011. Statistics from the international Telecommunication Union show that Egypt's number of Internet users increased by 36% between 2008 and 2009. Facebook is the second-most-popular website in Egypt, with more than 3.5 million of Egypt’s Internet users taking part, according to Alexa, a web information company.

-- Nasry Esmat in Los Angeles

Photo: Gamal Mubarak. Credit: Associated Press