Libyan rebels face tough fight for cellphone access

Via the Wall Street Journal:

The new cellphone network, opened on April 2, has become the opposition’s main tool for communicating from the front lines in the east and up the chain of command to rebel brass hundreds of miles away.

While cellphones haven’t given rebel fighters the military strength to decisively drive Col. Gadhafi from power, the network has enabled rebel leaders to more easily make the calls needed to rally international backing, source weapons and strategize with their envoys abroad.

To make that possible, engineeers hived off part of the Libyana cellphone network—owned and operated by the Tripoli-based Libyan General Telecommunications Authority, which is run by Col. Gadhafi’s eldest son—and rewired it to run independently of the regime’s control….

In a sign of deepening ties between Arab governments and the Benghazi-based administration, the U.A.E. and Qatar provided diplomatic support and helped buy the several million dollars of telecommunications equipment needed in Benghazi, according to members of the Libyan transitional authority and people familiar with the situation.

Meanwhile, rebel military commanders were using flags to signal with their troops, a throw-back that proved disastrous to their attempts at holding their front lines.

It’s interesting to note that the U.A.E. and Qatar are supporting the rebels, but the Chinese are not – and what side are the anti-democracy Saudis taking here?

The Chinese company Huawei Technologies Ltd., one of the original contractors for Libyana’s cellular network backbone, refused to sell equipment for the rebel project, causing Mr. Abushagur and his engineer buddies to scramble to find a hybrid technical solution to match other companies’ hardware with the existing Libyan network. Huawei declined to comment on its customers or work in Libya. The Libyan expats in the project asked that their corporate affiliations be kept confidential so that their political activities don’t interfere with their work responsibilities. Without Huawei, the backing from the Persian Gulf nations became essential—otherwise it is unlikely that international telecom vendors would have sold the sophisticated machinery to an unrecognized rebel government or individual businessmen, according to people familiar with the situation.

No matter which side you’re on, it’s obvious that mobile communications are key in this war.

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About marypmadigan

Writer/photographer (profession), foreign policy wonk (hobby).
This entry was posted in middle east. Bookmark the permalink.

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