Telecommunication opens up opportunities for Palestinians, but also challenges

‘Israel only allowed the use of 3G services in order to better spy on Palestinians.’ (Reuters)
Updated 09 May 2017

Telecommunication opens up opportunities for Palestinians, but also challenges

AMMAN: For years, Palestinians have been asking Israel to release their telecommunication equipment so that they can provide their mobile customers with high-speed mobile.
Israel had insisted that its refusal to allow Palestinians to use the latest technologies was based purely on security concerns.
Mashour Abudaka, former Palestinian minister of telecommunications, told Arab News that the Israeli justifications were illogical.
“The real reasons for the ban were economic and not security. They wanted to help Israeli mobile phone companies that had the 3G technology to benefit by having Palestinians buy their services.”
Abudaka elaborated why the Israeli security argument makes little sense: “All phones use the international gateway which Israel controls. You can’t make a call or have data transferred without going through the Internet and telephone equipment that it controls.”
In 2013, the Israeli reluctance to allow Palestinians high-speed mobile connectivity was raised during the visit of former US President Barack Obama.
When Obama was visiting Ramallah, a group of Palestinians put up three huge billboards that spoke directly to him: “Don’t bring your smartphone with you when you come to Ramallah, we have no 3G in Palestine.”
While it was a powerful campaign, it failed to make Israelis budge from their position; they continued to refuse to allow the two licensed Palestinian mobile phone companies to own and operate newer technology.
A Palestinian-Israeli official agreement signed recently removes the last Israeli obstacle that has held up the release of 3G equipment, which has been lying in Israeli warehouses for years.
Abudaka believes that the Israelis agreed to allow 3G as part of their phasing out of older technology, as their companies are moving on to 4G.
In order to understand the background to this decision, one has to go back to the initial Israeli-Palestinian agreement that was expected to usher in the creation of an independent Palestinian state.
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators agreed, in the context of the 1993 Oslo Accords and the various agreements thereafter, to share the electromagnetic spectrum, which includes frequencies for television, radio and mobile services.
A joint technical committee (JTC) was set up to discuss each side’s requirements.
Palestinians were to present their spectrum needs, and the JTC was to fulfill them within a month. In practice, however, little was achieved.
Ala Alaeddin, CEO of Intertech Co, and activists in the information and communication technology (ICT) sector told Arab News that the new 3G technology will give a great boost to Palestinian IT entrepreneurs.
“It will allow creative Palestinian talents to program many mobile applications that can now be used since data will be available on Palestinian handsets,” he said.
Since Palestine is highly wired and most people own smartphones, Alaeddin believes that many services will benefit from the availability of 3G in Palestine.
“New companies will enter this sector and benefit from the availability of data exchange on the go. Transport companies like Uber and Careem will be able to operate in Palestine now and banks will be able to offer banking services for Palestinian clients on the go.”
Former minister Abudaka, who is now working as an IT consultant, told Arab News that Israel increased the power it gave to the Palestinian mobile companies. “The companies asked for 5GEM and the Israelis gave them 10 GEM, but this was divided into two parts. The mobile company gets 5GEM for exclusive use in the urban areas, while it gets to share 5GEM in areas that border Jewish settlements.”
According to Abudaka, Palestinians traveling from Ramallah to Nablus would use the exclusive frequencies when they are within the two cities, but will use the shared frequencies once outside the city limits.
This issue was not easily resolved because both Israelis and Palestinians wanted to control the coverage in these outlying areas.
Abudaka said the problem was resolved when the two sides agreed to allow the Swedish company Ericsson to manage the shared airspace.
While many Palestinian IT entrepreneurs were celebrating the breakthrough, some were skeptical about the Israeli intentions.
Ghassan Abdallah, a math professor at Bir Zeit University, told Arab News that Israel only allowed the use of 3G services in order to better spy on Palestinians.
“Once they were able to completely control the workings of 3G to monitor Palestinians, they allowed the mobile companies to use it.”
Abdallah, however, believes that Palestinians should figure this out and create alternative technology to stop any attempts at prying into their information and movements.
Since Obama saw that sign in 2013, the World Bank estimates that the Palestinian economy has incurred a $1 billion loss in revenues.
The World Bank report, issued on April 1, cited the competitive advantage Israeli companies with 3G and 4G have over the Palestinian market.
As Palestinian telephone companies started being able to provide this new service to their customers, Palestinians began a campaign against Israeli cellphone companies.
The Palestinian government resolved to stop local merchants from selling Israeli SIM cards.
The introduction of 3G technology will boost the Palestinian economy and provide much faster connectivity to Palestinians, but with the new technology come complicated agreements that tend to make Palestinians more dependent on Israel, rather than less.
Palestinian aspirations to a totally independent and sovereign state include not only control over land but also over the airwaves that, until now, are in the hands of the Israeli occupiers.
The 3G breakthrough illustrates both the accomplishments and the challenges faced by the Palestinians in their ongoing struggle for independence.

Egypt votes on extending El-Sisi’s rule, country awaits result

Updated 20 April 2019

Egypt votes on extending El-Sisi’s rule, country awaits result

  • El-Sisi cast his ballot at a polling station in the eastern suburb of Heliopolis in the Egyptian capital
  • Supporters argue that El-Sisi has stabilized Egypt and needs more time to complete crucial economic reforms.

CAIRO: Egyptians were voting on Saturday in a referendum that aims to cement the rule of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, the former coup leader who presents himself as a rock of stability in a turbulent region.

Voters were being asked to back amendments to the constitution to allow El-Sisi, 64, to run for another six-year term while boosting his control over the judiciary and giving the military even greater influence in political life.

At a polling station in Manyal, a Cairo suburb overlooking the Nile, Mohamed Abdel Salam, 45, told AFP he was voting enthusiastically in support of the changes.

"I don't care about the presidential terms," he said.

"Sisi could stay forever as long as he's doing his job... and he has already done a lot"

The three-day referendum bucks the trend of North Africa's renewed uprisings, in which mass pro-democracy protests this month swept away veteran presidents in Algeria and Sudan.

Sisi himself was among the first to vote when polls opened, casting his ballot in the upmarket Cairo suburb of Heliopolis.

In Shubra, a working-class neighbourhood of the capital, dozens of voters, mostly women carrying their children, queued outside a polling station in the local high school.

In Cairo, troops and police were deployed in numbers although the interior ministry declined to give any nationwide figures.

Egypt is still battling a hardened Islamic insurgency based in the Sinai Peninsula that has seen attacks in Cairo and other cities.

Sisi has argued that he needs longer to complete the job of restoring security and stability after the turmoil that followed the overthrow of veteran autocrat Hosni Mubarak in the Arab Spring of 2011.

Out on the streets, Sisi's supporters waved flags bearing their campaign motto: "Do the Right" thing, as they pressed passers-by to turn out and vote 'Yes'.

The Egyptian leader won his first term as president in 2014, a year after he led the army in overthrowing elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi following mass protests against his single turbulent year in power.

Standing virtually unopposed after the disqualification or withdrawal of all realistic challengers, he was re-elected in March 2018 with more than 97 percent.

Both elections drew heavy criticism from human rights groups as they were accompanied by swingeing crackdowns on dissent -- both Islamist and secular.

Human Rights Watch also took issue with the referendum on extending Sisi's rule, saying the "constitutional amendments" would "entrench repression".

In a statement Saturday, the New York-based watchdog criticised the "grossly unfree, rights-abusive environment" of the vote.

For the past few weeks, Egypt's streets have been awash with banners and billboards urging citizens to vote for Sisi, while popular folk singers have exhorted voters to go to the polls.

Pro-Sisi campaign volunteers handed out boxed meals at four different polling stations in Cairo to voters after they had cast their ballots, AFP reporters said.

A parliamentarian greeted voters and volunteers gave out vouchers for the meals in the Shubra district.

In Manyal, a DJ blared loud patriotic songs extolling the virtues of Egypt under Sisi's leadership, including a new song by iconic Lebanese diva Nancy Ajram dedicated to Egypt and called "Ragel ibn Ragel" (What a fine man).

But not everyone is upbeat about the changes.

Sporting casual attire, a voter in his mid-30s told AFP in Cairo: "We are all staff in the same company and we were instructed by management to go vote.

"I want to say 'No'... on extending the presidential terms and the amendments related to the judiciary," he said declining to give his name for fear of repercussions.

He pointed to his bosses nearby who were making sure employees were voting.

"Even if I say 'No', they (the authorities) are still going to do what they want in the end," he added despondently.

Earlier in the week, parliament overwhelmingly endorsed the consitutional changes, which also include the creation of a second parliamentary chamber and a quota ensuring at least 25 percent of lawmakers are women.

Think tank the Soufan Center said the main effect of the referendum would be to "solidify Sisi's grip on the Egyptian political regime" in a country that "has become even more autocratic than it was under Mubarak".