Tactics of rebellion in Egypt

2017-07-05

in History, Internet matters, Politics, Security

Accounts of the protests that brought down the Mubarak government stressed the role of new internet-based social media, which helped organisers and supporters plan the protests. The critical event in toppling the regime, however, was the initial seizure of Tahrir Square on 25 January – a development in which the social media functioned partly as a decoy. Knowing that the security forces would use violence to break up any attempt to occupy the square, the organizers used social media to plan protests at twenty sites in working-class districts of the city, hoping to strain the security forces by dispersing them to multiple locations, while drawing large crowds that would increase the chance of breaking through security cordons and linking up at Tahrir Square. They planned one additional gathering, in Bulaq al-Daqrur, a working-class neighbourhood close to the centre of the city, with an industrial workforce employed in a nearby cigarette factory and in railway yards. They avoided announcing this gathering over the internet, allowing a crowd of several hundred to gather without the presence of security forces. This was the group that marched to Tahrir, swelling to several thousand along the way, and seized the square, by which time the protest was too large for the armed police force to crush.*

* Footnote: Charles Levinson and Margaret Coker, ‘The Secret Rally that Sparked an Uprising‘, Wall Street Journal, 11 February 2011.

Mitchell, Timothy. Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil. Verso; London. 2013. p. 229

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

alena July 6, 2017 at 9:49 am

There are quite a few similarities to what happened in Tianmen Square in China. there is a great account of it in “Do not Say We have Nothing” by Madeleine Thien.

. July 16, 2017 at 6:21 pm

There are two opposing models of how the Internet has changed protest movements. The first is that the Internet has made protesters mightier than ever. This comes from the successful revolutions in Tunisia (2010-11), Egypt (2011), and Ukraine (2013). The second is that it has made them more ineffectual. Derided as “slacktivism” or “clicktivism,” the ease of action without commitment can result in movements like Occupy petering out in the US without any obvious effects. Of course, the reality is more nuanced, and Zeynep Tufekci teases that out in her new book Twitter and Tear Gas.

“The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest” is the book’s subtitle. The power of the Internet as a tool for protest is obvious: it gives people newfound abilities to quickly organize and scale. But, according to Tufekci, it’s a mistake to judge modern protests using the same criteria we used to judge pre-Internet protests. The 1963 March on Washington might have culminated in hundreds of thousands of people listening to Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech, but it was the culmination of a multi-year protest effort and the result of six months of careful planning made possible by that sustained effort. The 2011 protests in Cairo came together in mere days because they could be loosely coordinated on Facebook and Twitter.

That’s the power. Tufekci describes the fragility by analogy. Nepalese Sherpas assist Mt. Everest climbers by carrying supplies, laying out ropes and ladders, and so on. This means that people with limited training and experience can make the ascent, which is no less dangerous — to sometimes disastrous results. Says Tufekci: “The Internet similarly allows networked movements to grow dramatically and rapidly, but without prior building of formal or informal organizational and other collective capacities that could prepare them for the inevitable challenges they will face and give them the ability to respond to what comes next.” That makes them less able to respond to government counters, change their tactics­ — a phenomenon Tufekci calls “tactical freeze” — make movement-wide decisions, and survive over the long haul.

This taxonomy also informs government reactions to protest movements. Smart responses target attention as a resource. The Chinese government responded to 2015 protesters in Hong Kong by not engaging with them at all, denying them camera-phone videos that would go viral and attract the world’s attention. Instead, they pulled their police back and waited for the movement to die from lack of attention.

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