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Egypt Protests’ Death Tally at Least 360; Labor Strikes Continue

February 16, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST
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JIM LEHRER: And we return to Egypt and to Jeffrey Brown.

JEFFREY BROWN: In the first official accounting, Egypt’s Health Ministry said today that at least 360 people died in the 18 days of anti-government protests, a preliminary count that did not include police or prisoners.

In the meantime, labor unrest continued, now including strikes by airport employees and textile workers, further crippling Egypt’s economy and prompting the military council ruling the country to send a text message to Egyptian cell phones, saying, “We urge citizens and members of professional and labor unions to go on with their jobs, each in their position.”

In response, one of the youth groups that helped organize the uprising tweeted today, “Strikes and protests should not stop.” The group also promoted a planned march this Friday to Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the democracy movement’s main gathering point.

And the role of the Internet and social media as a means of protest and repression continued to be discussed. In Washington yesterday, in a speech on worldwide Internet freedom, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized Egypt’s government for shutting down cell phones and the Internet during the protests.

U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: A few minutes after midnight on Jan. 28, the Internet went dark across Egypt. During the previous four days, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians had marched to demand a new government.

And the world, on TVs, laptops, cell phones and smartphones, had followed every single step. Pictures and videos from Egypt flooded the Web. On Facebook and Twitter, journalists posted on-the-spot reports. Protesters coordinated their next moves. Then the government pulled the plug. It certainly did not want the world to watch.

JEFFREY BROWN: In simple terms, what appears to have happened is this: Internet users in Egypt wanted to connect to, for example, Facebook. Normally, their computers check in with a so-called routing table, a kind of address book for websites around the world.

Once the computer finds the address, it successfully connects the user to the desired website. Instead, the Egyptian government appears to have disabled the routing table, so that Egyptian computers couldn’t locate and connect to websites, essentially turning off the nation’s Internet.

In a detailed front-page report today, The New York Times reconstructed how the Mubarak government was able to sever some 20 million people from the Internet on the night of the 28th.