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05 December 2023

Internet outages disrupt businesses, communication across Mideast, Gulf

By Agencies



Internet outages disrupted business and personal usage across a wide swathe of the Middle East on Wednesday after two undersea cables in the Mediterranean were damaged, government officials and Internet service providers said.

In Cairo, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology said the cut of the international communications cables Flag and Seamewe 4 had led to a partial disruption of Internet services and other telecommunications across much of Egypt.

At the Egyptian stock market, IT department engineer Mahmoud Mansour said the disruptions did not affect the operations at the exchange.

Emergency teams were quickly trying to find alternative routes, including by satellites, to end the disruptions, said Minister Tariq Kamel. But service was still slow or nonexistent by Wednesday night.

A telecommunications expert at the Egyptian communications ministry, Rafaat Hindy, told The Associated Press that the government is “engaged in efforts to try and overcome the consequences of the problem” but cautioned that “solving this could take days.”

US expert Eric Schoonover, senior research analyst at TeleGeography, a Washington-based group that tracks submarine cables around the world, said the cables severed “account to 75 per cent of the capacity connecting Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries to Europe.”

It would take “a few days up to one week before submarine cable operators deploy ships to bring the cables up and fix the fault,” Schoonover said, echoing gloomy predictions from engineers in Cairo.

Phone lines in Egypt still work, indicating “network operators in the area are rerouting traffic through emergency channels, including around India and back through Asia to the US and other threshold links that can bypass that particular bottleneck,” Schoonover added.

Despite this being an international cable affecting many Gulf and Arab countries, Egyptian authorities said that being closest to it, they have responsibility coordinating with companies to fix this problem. “We are working as fast as we can,” Hindy said.

Internet service also was disrupted in Dubai in the UAE in the Gulf, which markets itself as a top Mideast business and luxury tourist hub. Both Internet service providers was affected and one was completely down in the morning. DU restored Internet service by the afternoon although browsing was very slow.

The other carrier, Etisalat, and DU said international telephone service was also affected by the cable break.

DU attributed the disruption to a fault in “two international cable systems” in the Mediterranean Sea but gave no details.

It was not clear what caused the damage to the cable.

Schoonover said there was a rumor that an illegally or improperly anchored ship caused the problem, but TeleGeography cannot verify this. Cables get damaged all the time but Schoonover believes this was the first time two undersea cables next to one another in a very thin route were cut at the same time.

An official who works in the customer care department of DU, who identified himself only as Hamed because he was not authorized to talk to the media, said the cable cut took place between Alexandria, Egypt, and Palermo, Italy.

Although he was not in a position to describe the technical fault, Hamed said engineers contracted by DU were working to solve the problem. By early afternoon, the service was flooded with complaints and the ISP had found alternative routes but Hamed said “there is slowness while browsing on the internet.”

DU services Dubai media city, Internet City and Knowledge Village, which houses major university campuses.

The ISP also serves the Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC), including the Bourse, major malls, and big residential communities including the Palm Jumeira artificial island off Dubai’s coast.

Wednesday’s trade volume amounted to nearly $330 million, which is well short of closer to $1 billion on a good day.

There was no total outage in Kuwait, but service was interrupted Tuesday and Wednesday. The Gulfnet International Company apologized in an e-mail Wednesday to its customers for the “degraded performance in Internet browsing,” which it said was caused by a cable cut in the Mediterranean.

In Saudi Arabia, some users said Internet was functioning fine but others said it was slow or totally down.

A staffer at a Saudi ISP said that they were told that a cable rupture was the cause of the problem, which began early Wednesday. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. Calls to Saudi Telecom went unanswered Wednesday afternoon, the start of the weekend in Saudi Arabia.

Users in Bahrain and Qatar also complained of slow internet. (AP)