Don’t underestimate Egypt

This article in the LA Times on young Egyptian protesters makes some good points about the fragmentation and disorganisation of the Egyptian protest movement. But it also misses the point somewhat.

According to the article, Egypt’s young protesters ‘appear to lack the strategy, tactics and resolve’ to effect change and challenge the Mubarak regime. Apparently ‘many young demonstrators were socializing more than protesting. Some discussed dinner plans.’ Apart from this patronising characterisation of a movement whose members face beatings and torture every time they go on a demonstration, there is a failure to take into account some of the complexities of the Egyptian political scene. It’s true that this particular strand of Egyptian protest is, in some senses, immature – 6th April has only been going for a couple of years and Kifayah only a bit longer than that – but if all the trappings of a fully-fledged protest organisation are not there yet, it is not for want of resolve. The article makes no mention of how difficult it is to protest in Egypt. ‘It takes more than Twitter messages, leftist slogans and the indignant musings of bloggers’ conviently forgets that in a society where state intelligence makes it incredbily hard to organise and communicate, this is sometimes all that is open to Egypt’s young protesters. It’s hard to meet, to distribute literature, to organise people to meet in the same place. Infiltration and surveillance mean that getting anything done depends on networks of communication that perhaps are not very effective, but are often the only option.

It’s easy to reduce it to a Twitter and Facebook phenomenon, to trivialise it by invoking social media like it’s a passing fad. 300,000 members of ElBaradei’s Facebook group probably isn’t going to revolutionarise Egypt. But to reduce it to this denies this aspect of Egyptian protest its place in a wider picture of which it is only one part. The article makes passing mention of the labour movement and the MPs involved in protest (many of whom were part of the Muslim Brotherhood) but does not explain that none of these protest movements are self-contained. The links between the labour protesters, the Muslim Brotherhood, and groups like 6th April and Kifayah are complex, but what is important to remember is that young protesters in Egypt are part of a larger movement – they are not acting in isolation. The problems they face, of mobilisation, organisation, and recognition, are shared by many others on Egypt’s political scene. Protest in Egypt has a way to go before it will present a real threat to Mubarak and his government, but its youngest activists should not be written off as a bunch of Twittering dilettantes.

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