Pre-Revolution Social Movements
Although many attribute the success of the Egyptians Arab Spring revolution, or rather the overthrow of the government to more recent crises and concerns, there were many social movements that had been in place for years that led to the Mubarak-led regime downfall. But what are social Movements defined as exactly? “Movements are media that speak through action, their primary message is that they exist and act. Social movements are intricate networks of individual and collective agents (humans and non-humans) that constitute a wave of confrontational social engagements at many levels that encompass different forms of performances and associations marked by their oppositional but proactive character “(1) In short, social movements are the results of various networks working towards something, but do not constitute the foundation of those networks. Therefore, how did these social movements begin and how did they lead to the eventual ousting of a 30-year government stronghold?
According to a study on the Egyptian 2011 revolution done by the International Review of Information Ethics, there were four different key phases that occurred before the revolution. Each of these phases acted as stepping stones leading up to the 2011 Arab Spring revolution. Literally a revolution cannot and does not happen because of one single issue nor does it happen overnight. These phases included:
1. Launching a Public Presence (2008)
- In March of 2008, Egyptian workers, other opposition groups, and movements called for a national strike at the Ghazl Al-Mahalla textile factory to be held on April 6 which marked the “bread crisis” in which bread, which was normally subsidized by the government at a certain set price, was increased, thus causing outcry and becoming catalyst for a demonstration for raising wages. (2)
- Before this protest happened Israa Abdel-Fattah and Ahmed Maher, the protest organizers set up the “April 6th Strike Group” or the “youth movement” on Facebook and invited friends to support the workers strike, calling for a nationwide campaign of civil disobedience. The outcome was unexpectedly successful. Over 77,000 people joined the group and committed to either express themselves on social media, protest or skip work on April 6 thus propelling social mobilization and illustrating the resurgence of the labor movement. (2) Social Media was key in developing support for the growing labor movement, but it was not the foundation nor the root cause of the uprising.
2. Building a movement (2008-2009)
- In response to the April 6 movement and the growing social media presence, the government began to crack down on freedom of expression, and repress the people through online threats. However, the young people of Egypt were determined to use social media and harness the support and power to create a political moment. Israa Abdel-Fattah and Ahmed Maher were put into jail as well as tortured. Not only were social media sites key in spreading information and garnering support but they also sparked discussions about mutually shared concerns which made people unite over mutual discontent. The news of the torture of the protest organizers was spread throughout social media, angering the citizens. (3)
3. Strengthening the growing movement (2009-2010)
- Protests and social discontent grew after the April 6 Strike and with the imprisonment of the protestors in jail. This strike or movement rather became impactful because it brought together different social organizations that found a common base to work with one another and was chastised by the government illustrating that what they were doing was a threat to the regime. Facebook was a key park of this because it became less about using the social media site for networking, and more about spreading information and activism. (4)
4. Uniting around a common concern ( Police Brutality) (2010)
- Now that this social movement and social media presence was growing, there needed to be another event that helped to push the social movement to the next level that would unite the people. The death of Khaled Saeed by an Egyptian policeman via torture re-sparked the momentum for social protests and brought to surface a more public concern over Egypt’s unjust political system.The death of Saeed was published online, thus triggering international human rights organizations to become involved included Amnesty International which put pressure on the U.S. and the European Union to put pressure for democratic reforms in Egypt. (5)
Then came Tahrir Square
After these four phases that built upon the momentum of the April 6 Youth Movement or Strike, came the last step that tipped the scale in social movements in resulting in actual governmental change. This last step was the occupying of Tahrir Square which symbolized the population’s, especially the young population’s, political frustration.
Egypt is different from some other countries in MENA because people didn’t unite over the desire to have a single ethnicity or religion, but rather over political, economic, and social frustrations with the government. Without the use of Facebook and Twitter, these social movements would have maybe even never gained the ground that they did which caused the Youth Movement to act as the real catalyst for the eventual overthrow, or “resignation” of Mubarak.
(1) Melucci, A. (1994). A Strange kind of newness: What’s New in New Social Movements? In E. Laraña, H. Johnston & J. R. Gusfield (Eds.), New social movements : from ideology to identity. Philadelphia: Temple University Press
(2) Carr, S. (2008a). April 6 strike kicks off a year of protests. The Daily News Egypt, p. 1. Retrieved from http://www.masress.com/en/dailynews/100950
(3) El-Sayed, M. (2008). Virtual politics. Al Ahram, p. 1.
(4) Singer, M., & Samaan, M. (2008). April 6 activists stand by detained peers. The Daily News Egypt, p. 1.
(5) Al Malky, R. (2009). The death of youth activism in Egypt? The Daily News Egypt, p. 1. Retrieved from http://www.thedailynewsegypt.com/editorial-the-death-of-youth-activism-in-egypt.htm