Monday, February 14, 2011

Revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt: How they did it

Ben Ali waiting for the dust collectors.

Regarding the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypte, there has been some discussion as to what role the internet played and to what extend the uprisings were spontaneous.
Here we have two examples that illustrate that 1) internet was of primordial importance and 2) that what happened did not just come out of the blue, but in fact was to a large extend organzied and premeditated .
The first is a fragment of an interview that Global Voices had with Slim Amadou, blogger in Tunisa, who played a big role in the uprising there and who at this moment is secretary of state for Youth and Sport in the Tunisian interim-government.

The second is part of a very interesting reportage in the Wall Street Journal, about the tactics used by the Youth leaders that organized the protests in Egypt. From the artcile in the WSJ it becomes clear that it was in fact a combination of internet activism and grassroots action that did the trick. The Facebook pages of 'Kulena Khaled Said' in Arabic and 'We are all Khaled Said' in English, about a young Egyptian who some months ago had been tortured to death by the police in Alexandria, existed already for some time. In fact several demonstrations for 'the martyr Khaled Said' had already been held at the instigation of bloggers. The people behind these pags - one of whom apparently was Wael Ghoneim who has become famous in the meantime - had called for a big demonstration on 25 January. But the WSJ reveals that apart from that alsosome very important preparations were made  in order to mobilize ordinary people in the streets and to deceive the powerful riot police, the Amn -al-Merkazy.

First part of the interview with Slim:

Some say the Internet was a catalyst, others contend it has played only a marginal role in the uprising. Do you think, had the events of Sidi Bouzid or Cairo happened, say, in the 80s, when the Internet was not available yet, it would have achieved the tremendous rallying we've witnessed?
You don't have to go back to the 80s. In 2008, there were uprisings in Redeyef, similar to what
Slim Amadou
happened in Sidibouzid. But back then it seems that the internet community did not reach a critical mass. And then at that time, Facebook got censored for a week or two. I don't remember if it was related. But it was like a training for this revolution. People think that this revolution happened out of nowhere but we, on the Internet have been trying for years, together and all over the Arab world. The last campaign that mobilised people was for Khaled Said in Egypt, and we Tunisians participated. And you have to remember that Egyptians (and people all over the world) participated in the Tunisian revolution: they informed, they participated in Anonymous attacks and they even were the first to demonstrate for Sidibouzid in Cairo.
So, yes Internet was very important.
Along the same lines, there's a controversy over calling those Revolutions, Twitter/Facebook Revolutions. What's your take on that debate? What role, do you think, social media has played in helping sustain and disseminate the uprising?

When people begun demonstrating in Sidibouzid, part of the rage they were feeling was because media did not talk about them. They felt ignored and that their voice will never get through to stake holders. At that time all media was controlled by the government. The only media that took on itself to talk/report about Sidibouzid was us, Internet users. Hence the importance that social media took. In a few weeks people were compulsively following and sharing information in social media and censorship could not follow: they've been overwhelmed and information was getting through and everyday more people were rallying the cause.
You can't do a revolution without a working Information System. And since “old” media was dysfunctional, Internet Social Networks played that role.
(Click here for the complete interview on Global Voices) 

Next the story how the Egyptian Youth Leaders succeeded to march to Tahrir with just one group of protesters from the popular district Bulaq al-Dakrour: 

Before the first meeting of the Egyptian cabinet after Mubarak stepped down, his portrait is removed (AP).
In early January, the core of planners 'decided they would try to replicate the accomplishments of the protesters in Tunisia who ultimately ousted President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. Their immediate concern was how to foil the Ministry of Interior, whose legions of riot police had contained and quashed protests for years. The police were expert at preventing demonstrations from growing or moving through the streets, and at keeping ordinary Egyptians away.
"We had to find a way to prevent security from making their cordon and stopping us," said 41-year-old architect Basem Kamel, a member of Mohamed ElBaradei's youth wing and one of the dozen or so plotters.
They chose 20 protest sites, usually connected to mosques, in densely populated working-class neighborhoods around Cairo. They hoped that such a large number of scattered rallies would strain security forces, draw larger numbers and increase the likelihood that some protesters would be able to break out and link up in Tahrir Square. The group publicly called for protests at those sites for Jan. 25, a national holiday celebrating the country's widely reviled police force. They announced the sites of the demonstrations on the Internet and called for protests to begin at each one after prayers at about 2 p.m.
But that wasn't all.
Wael Ghoneim
"The 21st site, no one knew about," Mr. Kamel said.
For the final three days before the protest, Mr. Kamel and his fellow plotters say they slept away from home, fearing police would come to arrest them in the middle of the night. Worrying their cellphones would be monitored, they used those of family members or friends.
They sent small teams to do reconnaissance on the secret 21st site. It was the Bulaq al-Dakrour neighborhood's Hayiss Sweet Shop, whose storefront and tiled sidewalk plaza—meant to accommodate outdoor tables in warmer months—would make an easy-to-find rallying point in an otherwise tangled neighborhood no different from countless others around the city.

At 1:15 p.m., they began marching toward downtown Cairo. By the time police redeployed a small contingent to block their path, the protesters' ranks had grown enough to easily overpower them.
The other marches organized at mosques around the city failed to reach Tahrir Square, their efforts foiled by riot-police cordons. The Bulaq al-Dakrour marchers, the only group to reach their objective, occupied Tahrir Square for several hours until after midnight, when police attacked demonstrators with tear gas and rubber bullets.
It was the first time Egyptians had seen such a demonstration in their streets, and it provided a spark credited with emboldening tens of thousands of people to come out to protest the following Friday. On Jan. 28, they seized Tahrir Square again. They have stayed there since.
(Click here for the complete WSJ article)
The Egyptian Youth Coalition at their press conference after Mubarak left, in which they announced that the protests at Tahrir are over for the moment.

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