The government has partially shut down WhatsApp, Skype, FaceTime

Security concerns are the government’s main reasons for doing this, but there is also suspicion that economic incentives for local telcos.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi.

The Egyptian government has partially shut down voice over internet protocol (VoIP) services such as WhatsApp, FacebookMessenger, Skype, Viber and Apple’s FaceTime.

Security concerns are the government’s main reasons for doing this, but there is also suspicion that economic incentives for local telcos may be involved as the telcos have repeatedly complained to regulators about free calls via such apps.

The partial shutdown comes off the back of a three-month nationwide state of emergency which came in place after terrorist attacks killed 47 people in two churches on Palm Sunday. The emergency law gives Egyptian authorities immense power to do things like monitor personal communications without judicial oversight.

Sinai, a town which has seen increased attacks from the Islamic State (IS), was off the grid on Wednesday with 3G networks and mobile phones shutdown for hours while a security operation targeted at insurgents took place.

Egypt’s National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (NTRA) firmly denied that it was disrupting VoIP services saying, “there is no truth to the rumours circulating,” Quartz Africa reports.

Speaking to Quartz Africa, Ahmed Abdel Naby, 23 and administrator of Internet Revolution Egypt — a Facebook page that boasts over a million followers, said, “The latest blocks shows that the authorities are melding national security and business concerns. At this rate, no one will be able to make calls freely.”

The Egyptian regulators and local telcos have always maintained that customers calls should be charged and that users are ‘free-riding’ by using internet data. NTRA has also declared support for a controversial law in the works that makes it a crime to speak against the president on the the Internet.

“Our demands are simple: we want quicker and affordable internet without constant disruptions so we can be like other countries that respect freedom of expression,” Abdel Naby said, according to Quartz Africa. “The government cannot keep on using terrorism as an excuse to disrupt apps.”

Egypt may be the most populous Arab country in the world but it has one of the slowest internet speeds worldwide, ranking in the bottom five for broadband and 95th for mobile.

It is also the latest African country to interfere with internet services in recent times following closely in the footsteps of Cameroon and Morocco.

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