Ham Radio Playing a Part in the Egyptian Protests?

There has been some chatter on my ham radio mailing lists about the role ham radio may or may not be playing in the protests against the government in Egypt. The first pointer was to the article “Egypt’s Internet Still Offline,” published on January 27. The first comment exhort Egyptian Internet users to get on hamsphere.com.

The question then is how do they get on hamsphere if Internet service is not available? The answer seems to be that the government turned off the DNS servers, so if users were using DNS servers other than the government-run servers, such as the Google servers, they’d still have some access.

Another ham noted that there seemed to be several groups trying to coordinate efforts to communicate directly with Egyptians. He pointed to this page on reddit.com.

There’s also a post on QRZ.Com that notes that a group called Telecomix, a European group that supports a free and open Internet, was looking for radio operators that might be able to get a message into Egypt.

Another ham cautioned that¬†“hams in most middle-Eastern nations were either members of the ruling government, trusted friend that openly support a ruling government or members of a nations secret police. ¬†With the exception of outsiders visiting a given middle-East nation operating with a visitors license, there are no hams among the citizenry.” He went on to say that if there are communications being heard on the ham bands, they are probably from “freebanders,” and it would be illegal, of course to communicate with them.

Furthermore, you really might not want to support a group just because they’re calling for the overthrow of an arguably dictatorial government. Just look at what happened in Iran. I’m not sure that you can say that the people there are better off than they were before.

The upshot is that ham radio operators should be very careful about getting involved in something like this. Ham radio operators are generally not the most politically informed, and while this may all sound romantic, doing the right thing is not so easy to determine. Let’s not make a bad situation worse.

UPDATE 1/30/11, 2100Z
A story in the Huffington Post reports:

The group says it’s also worked on receiving and decoding amateur radio messages, sent on frequencies recommended by the group of activists. While these groups have only been able to receive a small amount of messages of a short length with an unknown source, the Egyptian people’s use of amateur radio to transmit messages represents an interesting utilization of old-fashioned technology to circumvent government restrictions.


  1. For what it’s worth, according to Renesys (and they know what they are talking about), it wasn’t simply a matter of turning off DNS servers. Instead, the Egyptian government apparently called each of the ISPs within that country (there are 5) and told them to remove the information that tells the rest of the world how to get to anyone with an IP address located inside Egypt. While working around an ISP-controlled (or government controlled) DNS server that’s not available isn’t something your grandma knows how to do off the top of her head, it’s pretty trivial for anyone who is network-savvy. What Egypt did was to make sure that Internet traffic can’t get into or out of Egypt, period. What’s interesting is that I haven’t read if there is still any form of Internet connectivity entirely within the country.

    In any case, I take with a very large grain of salt some of the comments posted on qrz.com. Although I’m not sure that I believe the comment that basically said that the only way you’d have a ham license is if you’re effectively part of the government (as they say on Wikipedia: Citation need), in any case I seem to recall that Part 97 rules don’t allow us to get involved with those kinds of things. I doubt that the FCC would extend the definition of Emergency Traffic to passing messages intended to work around restrictions put in place by the sovereign government of another nation (regardless of who is “right”).

    And that’s about as political as I ever get …

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