Vodafone Group Plc was ordered to send mobile-phone text messages by the Egyptian government, urging people to confront “traitors and criminals” as demonstrators demanded the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.
The Egyptian authorities can instruct the local mobile network operators, which also include Etisalat and France Telecom SA’s Mobinil service, to send messages under emergency powers provisions, Vodafone said today. The messages were not written by the mobile-phone operators, it said.
“The Armed Forces urge Egypt’s loyal men to confront the traitors and the criminals and to protect our families, our honor and our precious Egypt,” said a Feb. 1 text message sent on Vodafone’s network and obtained by Bloomberg News.
A Vodafone spokesman declined to comment on the details of the messages it was ordered to send. Spokespeople for France Telecom and Emirates Telecommunications Corp., also known as Etisalat, couldn’t immediately be reached to comment.
Egyptian Internet services were restored yesterday after protests by demonstrators demanding the ousting of President Mubarak had led to five days of closure. Mobile-phone voice services at units of Vodafone and France Telecom SA were restored Jan. 29.
The world’s biggest mobile-phone operator has protested to the authorities that the current situation is “unacceptable,” Vodafone said. “We have made clear that all messages should be transparent and clearly attributable to the originator.”
Egypt’s largest opposition group today rejected talks with President Mubarak after at least six protesters were killed in Cairo’s Tahrir Square overnight, and vowed to stay at the scene of the fighting until he steps down.
Fighting broke out again today in Tahrir Square, where the army set up a barrier after more than 800 people were injured in yesterday’s clashes. Al Arabiya television reported heavy gunfire from around the square. Mubarak loyalists rode horses and camels into Tahrir late yesterday, swinging whips and clubs, and both sides hurled rocks, bottles and concrete chunks.
Vodafone Chief Executive Officer Vittorio Colao said earlier today that SMS services in Egypt had not yet been restored. “It’s not in our power, it will be restored when we are authorized to restore it,” Colao said on a conference call with reporters.
Egypt has one of the most advanced telecommunications markets in the Middle East and Africa. About 95 percent of Egyptians, or 74.9 million subscribers, are clients of a mobile phone network, according to analysts at Cairo-based AlembicHC.
“This is a country where there is still a curfew and extraordinary legislation in place,” Colao said today, adding that antennae had been damaged as part of the protests. “We are in a continuous dialogue with government.”
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