2011 - %3, February

Egypt's Mobile Service Outage Appears to Target Activists

| Tue Feb. 1, 2011 7:00 AM EST

On January 25, Egyptian human rights activist Hossam Bahgat stood in protest with some 15,000 others in Cairo's Tahrir Square (get MoJo's up-to-date coverage on this here). Mobile phone reception was intermittent until around midnight, when the lines were largely restored. That is, except for Bahgat's phone. "Since then my SIM card has been basically dead, not even getting any signal," he says. Reports as early as Wednesday mentioned that the government may have shut down access to Twitter and Facebook, and disabled mobile phone towers. Around 4 a.m. on Friday, Egypt underwent a nationwide internet and telecommunications blackout. An interview with Bahgat, however, reveals that Vodafone, and potentially Egypt's other mobile network operators , may have selectively severed phone access for human rights defenders, lawyers, and political activists starting on Tuesday and continuing into the present. "That's certainly a reason for concern," he says.

According to Bahgat, the founder and director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, what happened to his phone service also happened to at least four other human rights activists and lawyers. "People trying to reach us have been getting the message that this number is incorrect," he told me. There seemed to be only one quick way around the blockage: Shortly after noticing their mobile service was cut off, Bahgat and his colleagues purchased new phone lines.

Bahgat notes that Egyptian law gives government agencies the right to interfere with the work of private providers for the purposes of national security. "But as for the decision to suspend the phone lines selectively and the phone lines of human rights defenders, this is morally unjustifiable," he says. Vodafone, which serves Bahgat along with 43% of Egypt's mobile phone users, announced Saturday that they "had to comply with the demands of authorities." But Bahgat plans to file a lawsuit against the company for breaching consumer protections, overriding activists' right to communicate, and arbitrary interference with activists' right to privacy.

Of course, in order to file the suit, Bahgat will have to wait until the local political situation stabilizes: With the on-going leadership overhaul and curfew intact since Friday, the courts "have shut down indefinitely." "We're not sure when the courts will reopen and what type of situation we will find ourselves in," says Bahgat. If and when the courts do reopen, he is prepared for action. "This is something that I plan to pursue as soon as possible," he says. "We don't want this to become a precedent where some individuals are targeted and have their phone lines suspended because of their activism."

Advertise on MotherJones.com

West Virginia Legislator Hatches Plan to Secede

| Tue Feb. 1, 2011 6:00 AM EST

First Tunisia, then Egypt, now...West Virginia? Well, no, not exactly. But delegate Larry Kump has had it up to here with his state's government. "I take pride in being a Mountaineer," says the freshman legislator—but he'd rather break his beloved state apart than see it suffer on as an economic backwater.

"Our per capita income in West Virginia is 47th in the United States; it's one of the few things we're not 50th in," Kump says. "We've lost 10,000 manufacturing jobs over the past three years. Gross Domestic Product is 49th in the nation."

"One of my favorite sayings here in West Virginia is 'Thank God for Mississippi,' because if it wasn't for Mississippi, we'd be fiftieth in everything."

He adds, "I'd prefer West Virginians stay together and just get their act together—but if they don't, I think it's a good idea to go elsewhere."

Elsewhere, in this case, means moving back in with the ex. Last week, Kump, a self-identified "libertarian grassroots populist" with tea party ties, introduced a bill in the state legislature calling for a non-binding referendum on secession. Specifically, Kump suggests that the three counties of the state's eastern panhandle break away from the mother ship and become a part of Virginia (as they were prior to 1863). His reason is simple: Kump believes the state government has created an economic climate that's holding its citizens back. West Virginia's almost heaven, in other words, but it's an awful big "almost."

"One of my favorite sayings here in West Virginia is 'Thank God for Mississippi,'* because if it wasn't for Mississippi, we'd be fiftieth in everything," says Kump (who clearly hasn't seen this map). "All you need to do is cross the border in any of the surrounding states and they're all doing much better than we are."

Kump's hardly the first person to contemplate leaving West Virginia, but his grievances are noteworthy in part because of what inspired him: Unleashing Capitalism, a 2007 pro-business manifesto edited by West Virginia University economist Russell Sobel. The book, supported by funding from the energy conglomerate Koch Industries, has become a must-read for the state's reform-minded conservatives, who tout it as a blueprint for economic growth. The state's GOP chairman called the book "our party platform" when it was first released; it's spawned a sequel (about South Carolina), and been honored by the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, a Washington-based think tank backed by Exxon-Mobil.

Mubarak's Horrific Human Rights Legacy

| Tue Feb. 1, 2011 6:00 AM EST

Editor's note, 6/19/12: Hosni Mubarak, sentenced to life in prison this month and in deteriorating health, was reportedly put on life support in an Egyptian military hospital on Tuesday. (Reuters initially reported that Mubarak been declared "clinically dead" by Egyptian authorities.) Below is an overview of his brutal legacy, as Egyptians ousted him from power in spring 2011.

Cario has been ablaze for the past week. As the Egyptian people have faced expired tear gas (from cans stamped "Made in America"), army tanks, water hoses, bullets, and imprisonment, it is important to know just how bad this United States-supported dictator is. Below, some examples of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's misdeeds which illustrate nicely why so many Egyptians want him out for good.

Torture

Mubarak is most well-known among human rights advocates as a serious offender of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention against Torture [PDF], and Egypt's own constitution. The offenses are innumerable:

  • The Egyptian Organization of Human Rights reports that between 1993 and December 2008, 460 torture cases were reported, with 167 cases of death due to torture or ill-treatment.
  • The families of suspects are often tortured to extract information about suspects. One account from 2008 reports that after police officers burst into the home of an absent suspect, they attacked his pregnant sister instead—with a baseball bat. She fell over a flight of stairs and died.
  • Mubarak has a long and comfortable relationship with hosting and torturing detainees for the United States and the U.K., an arrangement  often overseen by Mubarak's newly-appointed Vice President Omar Suleimen.
 

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 1, 2011

Tue Feb. 1, 2011 5:30 AM EST

U.S. Army Sgt. Robert Smith, 2-502, 101st Airborne Division talks to Afghans before the Cash for Work Program starts outside Stronghold Dog, Afghanistan, Jan. 29, 2011. The program provides partnership with the local community by providing income for day labor and the turning in of unexploded ordinances. ISAF photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Joseph Swafford