Internet Shutdown 'Will Never Happen Again,' Says Egypt's IT Chief

WASHINGTON - Yasser El kady survived Egypt's revolution to remain CEO of Egypt's IT development arm. He is now in the U.S. traveling city to city to meet with IT companies to assure them that Egypt remains a good place to do business.

One message El kady is delivering is a commitment from Egypt's provisional government that a decision to kill the Internet "will never happen again."

As the protest rallies early this year grew ever larger in Cairo, the government sought to keep people from posting news on Facebook and Twitter . Reports of an Internet shutdown began Jan. 27, and on Feb. 2 it was reversed .

It was a stunning move for a country of 80 million people that has worked to develop its IT sector, attracting firms such as Microsoft , Oracle and Hewlett-Packard, which built offices in Cairo's high-tech office park, Smart Village .

El kady says the government is rewriting its telecommunications law in response to the former government's decision to kill Internet access. The law won't necessarily pre-empt the government's ability from shutting down the Internet, but will likely set many reviews and approval processes to ensure a similar action does not happen again, he said.

The government in Egypt remains unsettled. It is being run by military rulers under a caretaking arrangement until elections are held later this year.

But El kady, the CEO of Information Technology Industry Development Agency (ITIDA), says his job to promote IT investment in Egypt is critical to ensuring that Democracy takes root.

To achieve Democratic transformation, the country needs to have a strong economy and good jobs, said El kady, and IT multinational firms employ about 150,000 people alone.

"We don't have any other option but to achieve our goals and objectives," said El kady.

If anything, Egypt's revolution raised the visibility of IT in Egypt. Egypt had just over 7.4 million Facebook users by June, a growth rate of 105%, over the last 12 months, according to Inside Facebook. The leader, over that same period, was Brazil at a 300% increase with 19 million users.

"We are proud that our sector was looked at like a tool for igniting the revolution, and a tool for communication during the revolution time and after," said El kady.

El kady knows the IT industry. He was trained as a network engineer and worked as an executive at Cisco for 11 years until recruited by the Egyptian government about a year and a half ago. Last November he became head of ITIDA.

Despite the efforts of Egypt's IT sector, analysis firm Ovum's lead analyst, Peter Ryan, says "the number of questions that remain unanswered are significant."

"The Egyptian government still needs to clarify the direction they are going to do with regard to regular elections and economic policy," Ryan said.

The country's fundamentals remain the same. It has a talented workforce with good language skills, he said. "These are some of the best (workers) that you are going to find anywhere in the world."

But there is going to be a lot of wariness on the part of investors, Ryan said. Egypt could come back very quickly, "as long as enterprises realize that they are not working with a service provider that is not going to shut the Internet off arbitrarily for a week," sahe said.

But the government will have to make the right rules and do so quickly, he said.

U.S. officials are trying to boost economic development in that country. While El kady was in the U.S., U.S. senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) John McCain (R-Az.) were in Egypt, where they rang the bell to open Cairo's stock exchange on Sunday.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com .

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