In 2011 Egypt made worldwide headlines as a revolution took hold and anti-government protestors vented their anger and frustration against the regime. It was a time when the world held its collective breath in anticipation of what could or would transpire.
Almost two years later, the former government toppled and reports of ex-President Hosni Mubarak on charges relating to the deaths of over 800 protestors, the country is once again in the news.
This time, Egypt’s top appeals court has overturned a previous guilty verdict imposed on Mubarak and ordered a retrial. Speculation is rife as to what implications this will have on Egypt’s turbulent journey on the way to democracy.
Aside from the political and social discourse and change initiated through the country’s revolution, the event shed global light on the impact of social media and the role this powerful resource plays in modern society.
In fact technology, more specifically the Internet, was at the forefront of key developments that characterised the revolution.
The Huffington Post online reported that when the government shut down the Net, anonymous users interacted to help keep communication channels open. It helped keep the world’s attention on what was going on in the country.
Today, technology remains a cornerstone of Egyptian society. The country’s telecommunications sector comprises several global service providers, including Etisalat Misr, Mobinil, Orascom Telecom and Vodafone.
These established firms have reportedly witnessed a 23.1 percent growth rate since 2008. At the end of 2011, the country had 83.8 million mobile subscribers, nearly 100 percent penetration.
Global research company Frost & Sullivan has reported that broadband Internet is considered to be a high-growth area and the sector generates revenue in the region of $6,35 billion. This figure is expected to exceed $11 billion by 2018.
As is the case in many developing economies in Africa, Egypt’s authorities have made public their intention to investigate claims of poor quality of service by consumers and take action where necessary.
Towards the end of 2012 the country’s telecommunication watchdog, The Egyptian Competition Authority (ECA) called for an investigation into a complaint about a “secret agreement” between certain providers who allegedly colluded to increase the price for prepaid mobile credit cards.
Despite wrangling between stakeholders, industry representatives have stated clear objectives for ICT and telecommunications, including a significant increase in job creation – with at least 20 000 new jobs expected to be made available.
According to Egypt’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT), the country saw double digit growth in the telecom and IT sector prior to the 2011 uprising, but they are confident that renewed movement in the sector will bring growth.
The industry body wants to build on the Telecom Master Plan formulated in 2000. Information available through the website identifies a number of milestones that have been achieved as part of the reformation of the telecoms industry. These milestones include the deregulation of the mobile services sector, pre-paid calling cards, data and Internet services, as well as the enlargement of the Ownership Base of Telecom Egypt.
Most recently the Open Source Strategy Committee has stipulated its aim to integrate and use the open source software-based applications as a national strategy. There is also talk of the efforts of authorities in trying to establish a fourth mobile services license.
The pace of development and growth of technology and the economy will likely depend on the buy-in of key role players including government and the business sector.
One of Egypt’s most well known technology powerhouses falls under the Sawiris family. Naguib Sawiris is the founder of Orascom Telecom Holding SAE and is reported to have a net worth of $2,5 billion.
Onsi Sawiris, who founded the Orascom Group, is reported to have a net worth of $2,17 billion.
With the world’s attention once again fixed on Egypt’s socio-political status, ICT is likely to play an even more important role going forward.
Chris Tredger, Online Editor