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Will You Be Angry? In Egypt, April 6 Falls Short of Hopes, Expectations
Will You Be Angry? In Egypt, April 6 Falls Short of Hopes, Expectations
We welcome this guest post on the April 6 movement in Egypt by Chris Assaad, POMED’s Research Associate for Egypt and editor of our Egypt Country Page.
Monday, April 13,2009 12:54
pomed.org

We welcome this guest post on the April  6 movement in Egypt by Chris Assaad, POMED’s Research Associate for Egypt and editor of our Egypt Country Page.

What started as a small Facebook group, created by two Egyptian activists in 2008, quickly ballooned into a political movement, with at least 70,000 members staking a claim to membership in the April 6 Youth Movement. Having called for a general strike on April 6th of this year, a “Day of Anger,” potential protestors were met last week with a heavy police presence throughout the streets of Cairo and other cities, effectively averting the strike.

Although this movement may seem to be another instance of the rising and falling fortunes of a short-lived opposition group in Egypt, April 6, even in its apparent failure, shows a new face to the future of opposition in Egypt.

The group takes its name from a day of widespread national protests on April 6, 2008, which grew out of a series of labor strikes in al-Mahalla al-Kubra, an industrial town north of Cairo. April 6 originally emerged to broaden support for these protests against low wages and the increasing cost of living. Soon, however, April 6 took a life of its own and expanded its list of grievances against the government. It has since organized a few smaller-scale protests, but April 6th, 2009 was supposed to be its largest protest to date.

April 6 has publicly stated its demands, both economic and political. The group wishes to increase the minimum wage, as well as link wages to inflation, which is high in Egypt. They also call for the drafting of a new constitution that would limit the president to two terms, guarantee political rights, and protect the freedom of labor unions. Furthermore, they are demanding an end to controversial gas exports from Egypt to Israel, which began in early 2008. April 6 espouses non-violent civil disobedience in seeking these demands.

Given their inspiration in organized labor and the nature of their demands, many of the group’s supporters are clearly left-leaning. Moreover, April 6 generally appears to shy away from any religious agenda or affiliation, as indicated by the explicit ban of sectarian discussions of religion on its Facebook page. Its membership is also noteworthy because it consists mostly of educated urban Egyptian youths who have never been politically active before. April 6 has surprised some observers and given commentators much to write about. In particular, Western media and technology blogs, looking for stories of activists using online social networks to voice and organize political opposition, picked up the story and raised unrealistic expectations for its success.

Another unexpected development was the joint cooperation of the April 6 Youth Movement and the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest and best-organized opposition group. Whereas the Muslim Brotherhood only gave tacit, but not official approval of the April 2008 Mahalla strikes, this time around, things were a bit different.

In the days leading up to the strike, the Brotherhood encouraged their membership to participate in the strike. Some commentators, however, doubted the commitment of the Brotherhood to the protests, which may have led to their limited participation in street protests. Nonetheless, about 100 opposition MPs, mostly members of the Brotherhood, were reported to have walked out of a speech given by the Prime Minister, Ahmed Nazif, in the People’s Assembly, to mark the day of protest.

Although it remains to be seen if this was political maneuvering or a genuine show of support for the movement, the Muslim Brotherhood has shown itself capable and willing to reach out and collaborate with liberal-secular groups in order to oppose the Mubarak regime. Other opposition actors, including the socialist Tagammu party, the Democratic Front Party, and Ayman Nour had also given their support to the strike.

As April 6th approached, the government took preventative action by arresting activists in the days leading up to the called strike. When April 6th arrived, riot police were deployed in massive numbers in potential trouble spots. Police were ordered to arrest anyone participating in the protests, but they only ended up detaining a few dozen activists throughout the nation among those that actually showed up. Thus, last week’s April 6 strike was effectively ended before it could even begin.

The reason for the movement’s quick growth – the use of online social networking – is also cited as one of the reasons for its failure. Its appeal was limited mostly to the relatively small (but growing) proportion of Egyptians that have access to the internet. Moreover, some commentators have criticized the “click-to-join” noncommittal involvement of online activists and their reluctance to participate in real-life protests that could subject them to violence or jail time.

Though the strike may not have achieved its goals, there some hope that April 6 may have made a positive contribution to the political scene in Egypt. The continuing cooperation among Brotherhood members and secular leftist activists suggests that the emerging opposition against the regime in Egypt, though ideologically diverse, is willing to work together to oppose the regime. Additionally, the failed strike may point towards the nascent political consciousness among middle class, educated young Egyptians, many of whom have previously shunned political involvement, as April 6 was the first political experience for many of them.

Finally, although the failure reveals the ephemeral and non-committal nature of opposition activity through online social networks, the April 6 Youth Movement offers a glimmer of possibility that these new tools, if used properly, could be used to offer effective opposition to the government. Perhaps future activists will learn from the failings of the April 6 movement and find ways to make online organizing and activism translate into offline actions and tangible political gains for opposition groups in Egypt.

The Source


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