Over the past five days, Egyptians have been hit with a steady stream of pro-Mubarak text messages.
"Youth of Egypt, beware rumors and listen to the sound of reason -- Egypt is above all so preserve it," read one text, according to a photograph and translation posted on this Flickr account. Another, received Sunday by an Associated Press reporter in the country, called on "honest and loyal men to confront the traitors and criminals and protect our people and honor."
In both cases, the sender of the text was only identified as Vodafone. The Guardian reports that a further mass message, sent by a group called "Egypt Lovers," encouraged Mubarak supporters to gather Wednesday in Cairo's Tahrir Square. When the regime's backers arrived at the central plaza, they attacked anti-government demonstrators.
U.K.-based Vodafone owns a 55 percent stake in Egypt's largest mobile carrier, Vodafone Egypt, and today admitted that the regime had forced it to transmit propaganda.
"Under the emergency powers provisions of the Telecoms Act, the Egyptian authorities can instruct the mobile networks of Mobinil, Etisalat and Vodafone to send messages to the people of Egypt," the company said in a statement. "These messages are not scripted by any of the mobile network operators and we do not have the ability to respond to the authorities on their content."
Vodafone isn't the only telecom hijacked by the authorities. Mobinil, which is 71 percent owned by France Telecom, told AOL News that it had "been required by the Egyptian army to send text messages to its customers" but that only messages "concerning national security and general safety" were processed. The Paris-headquartered company added that it "strongly disapproves" of "any message of a political nature" that runs counter to the firm's "neutrality principle."
Meanwhile on Wednesday, Etisalat Egypt -- a subsidiary of Abu Dhabi-based Emirates Telecommunications Corp. -- sent out a message in Arabic reading, "To every mother, father, brother and sister, to every honorable citizen, take care of this country for this nation lasts forever," according to The Wall Street Journal. Etisalat Egypt wasn't immediately available to comment on the text messaging issue.
This spam propaganda is fueling local anger with the telecom giants, who were already under attack for shutting down their networks Friday at the request of the government. Mai Barakat, a London-based analyst with research firm Informa Telecoms and Media, told AOL News that Vodafone and other firms risk losing customers if Egyptians start to view them as tools of the regime.
"A lot of people will quit their provider if they think they're taking the government's side," she said
However, Jack Gold -- president of U.S.-based tech consultancy J. Gold Associates -- told AOL News that firms like Vodafone simply aren't in a position to stand up to the authorities. "The truth is that all carriers and all operators are licensed by the country they're working in," he says. "If the government decides they need you to do something and you don't do it, they'll pull your license and you'll be shut down."
In countries like the U.S., U.K. and France, telecom firms have the option of taking the government to court if they disagree with an executive order. "But in authoritarian nations, if the top guy decides you're off the air, you're off the air," Gold says. "In this case, I don't think we can hold operators liable for doing what the government told them to do. They had no option."