On the 2009 6th of April protest (better late than never!)

The use of the internet for political mobilization and facilitating citizens’ access to information has been steadily increasing in Egypt. Several Egyptian bloggers have seen massive increases in readership after waves of arrests over the course of the past few years. International media organizations have taken an interest in the phenomenon of online activism in Egypt and profiled many Egyptian bloggers. Many have come to obtain the majority of their updates on current affairs from Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and online news services such as GlobalVoicesOnline.

The 6 of April Youth Movement has further reinforced the notion that the internet has become a foremost means of youth activism in Egypt. This especially rang true after the first 6 of April strike in 2008 which was by most accounts a success. According to al-Jazeera English, “the power of online activists reached its height in 2008 when they backed a call for a strike at a textile mill, urging nation-wide civil disobedience…which resulted in deadly riots”. Many agree that it is precisely because the strike originated with the textile workers, and only later gave birth to the online 6 of April Movement, that it saw such strong participation. In 2009, on the other hand, the call to strike was made by the 6 of April Youth themselves online and through posters, rather than backing an already existing citizen protest.

However, opinions as to the success/failure of this year’s strike vary widely. Egyptian writer Belal Fadl waxes poetic about the 6 of April youth, stating that that the mere attention this year’s strike received both in terms of media coverage and government mobilization of security forces is an indicator of its success. Others disagree, such as the Egyptian state press who gloat about the failure of the strike, and many in the opposition press who acknowledge the weakness of this year’s participation. Well-known blog “The Arabist” goes even further by advising Egyptian opposition activists to distance themselves from the movement, stating that “Egypt’s activists and opposition politicians are discrediting themselves if they make a big deal about a day of protests that most don’t even participate in – and no, joining a Facebook group does not count”.

It may be true that internet activism is becoming a central means for Egyptian youth to become politically and socially active. However, the weak participation in this year’s strike is a strong indicator of what internet activism is not: namely, the new form of activism for the Egyptian masses. In a country where it is estimated that only 15% of the population are regular internet users it is clear that merely issuing an online call for a nation-wide strike is not enough to gain broad citizen support. This year’s strike makes it unabashedly clear that it is not sufficient for a marginal disgruntled middleclass to claim to speak on behalf of the discontented masses. Rather, equitable social change is instigated only when all segments of society are equal participants with equal voice.

This is an edited version of the original article which appeared in the April issue of the Civil Society Nesletter published by the Ibn Khaldun Centre

June 12, 2009 - Posted by | Egyptian Affairs, Media/Press

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