Egypt Cuts Off Communication amid Crisis

At the Egyptian coffee shop in Queens, New York, passionate discussions in Arabic, where the developments in Egypt dominate the discussions, shop owner Labib Salama is worried. He hasn't been able to reach his 22-year-old nephew, Peter -- who lives in Egypt -- for days, reports CBS News correspondent Elaine Quijano.

"We don't know how it goes, he could be killed or could be hurt, it could be somebody catch him," said Salama.

In the wake of the protests this week, the Egyptian government Friday took an extraordinary step: cutting off nearly all internet access and shutting down cell phone service.

Internet traffic to and from Egypt built throughout the day Thursday. Then just before 12:30 a.m. Cairo time Friday, traffic across 80 Egyptian internet providers abruptly stopped.

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Shortly afterwards, cell phones went down as well. The country had been pulled off the grid.

And one possible consequence? The lack of communication may have driven even more people into the streets.

"It magnifies the chaos because people don't know whether their friends and family are safe and they don't know whether the regime will last on Monday or whether it will be collapsed," said Phil Howard of the University of Washington.

In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton quickly decried the move:

"We urge the Egyptian authorities to allow peaceful protests and to reverse the unprecedented steps it has taken to cut off communications," said Clinton in a press conference Fri.

International journalists have been restricted as well. Cameras have been confiscated and getting information out has been difficult.

By 8 p.m. Saturday in Egypt, some internet connections had been restored. And one Egyptian journalist resumed his Twitter feed, reporting. "I'm online again!"

And internet service appears to be coming back slowly to part of Egypt in a limited fashion. Cell phone service appears to be coming back as well. On Saturday, two of Egypt's main internet service providers were up and running.

  • Elaine Quijano

    Elaine Quijano was named a CBS News correspondent in January 2010. Quijano reports for "CBS This Morning" and the "CBS Evening News," and contributes across all CBS News platforms. She is based in New York.