x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Britain protests over Vodafone being told to defend Mubarak

Telecom operator ordered to send texts against protesters.

LONDON // The UK government has formally protested to the Egyptian regime after Vodafone was ordered to send out pro-Mubarak text messages in the lead-up to the violent clashes in Cairo.

Alistair Burt, the UK foreign minister, contacted the Egyptian ambassador in London late on Thursday to express Britain's concern over the incident, the Foreign Office said yesterday.

William Hague, the UK's foreign secretary, has also issued a statement branding the "abuse" of internet and mobile phone networks "unacceptable and disturbing".

A spokesman from the British-owned telecommunications giant said that other mobile network operators in Egypt, including the UAE's Etisalat and France Telecom SA's Mobinil service, were also obliged to send out the messages earlier this week. Nobody from Etisalat was immediately available for comment.

The phone operators were told to switch off services last week but, on Sunday, were ordered to send the messages under Egypt's emergency powers provisions.

A text message received by an Associated Press reporter in Egypt said: "The Armed Forces urge Egypt's loyal men to confront the traitors and the criminals and to protect our families, our honour and our precious Egypt."

Another urged Egyptians to attend a pro-Mubarak rally in Cairo on Wednesday. The first was marked as coming from Vodafone. The other was signed: "Egypt Lovers."

Vodafone said the messages had been drafted by the Egyptian authorities and that it had no power to change them. "Vodafone Group has protested to the authorities that the current situation regarding these messages is unacceptable. We have made clear that all messages should be transparent and clearly attributable to the originator."

The company said that both Mobinil and Etisalat were also making similar protests.

Mobinil said in a statement: "Messages with army endorsement concerning national security and general safety were the only messages processed by Mobinil.

"France Telecom strongly disapproves of any message of a political nature that runs against the neutrality principle which defines our role as a network operator."

Vittorio Colao, Vodafone's chief executive, said in a conference call with journalists that text message services in Egypt had not yet been restored, though voice calls had.

"It's not in our power. It will be restored when we are authorised to restore it," Mr Colao said. "We are in a continuous dialogue with the government.

"This is a country where there is still a curfew and extraordinary legislation in place."

About 95 per cent of Egypt's population - almost 75 million people - subscribe to a mobile phone network.