It’s easy to overlook the importance of civil resistance savviness when talking about the protests that forced the hand of power in Egypt. The media placed Facebook, Twitter and YouTube on center stage as if actors in their own right. What struck me most, however, was how well-trained and disciplined the movement was. I believe this had a pivotal impact on the outcome of the protests. Identifying the specific tactics and strategies used in Egypt is important to balance the focus on technology. It is equally important to explain how the popular resistance acquired those skills so others might do the same.
Above is the first page of a 26-page how-to guide circulated in both hard- and electronic-copy during the first wave of protests in Egypt. The document was translated into English by The Atlantic and outlines a number of critical points central to civil resistance, including very specific demands on the Mubarak regime; concrete goals for the popular resistance and tactical steps to achieve these stated goals. The guide also provided tips on what protection gear to wear and how to engage the police with the use of spray paint.
Starting in the alleys was not a random decision. It makes tactical and strategic sense regardless of the technology used to coordinate this. Starting small and away from the main protests is a safe way to pool protesters together. It’s also about creating an iterative approach to a “strength in numbers” dynamic. As more people crowd the smaller the streets, this gives a sense of momentum and confidence. Starting in alley ways localizes the initiative. People are likely neighbors and join because they see their friend or sister out in the street. This tactic figured as a drawing in the 26-page guide:
The guide also stressed the need to remain peaceful and not engage in sabotage. The discipline of remaining non-violent is instrumental in civil resistance. Engaging in violence provides government forces with the excuse they’re looking for to clamp down on protesters and delegitimize them in a public way. The guide also recommends that activists try to win over the police and army instead of attacking them. The protesters behind this guide were clearly well trained and knew what they were doing. They even provided several Google Earth screen shots of different parts of the city to recommend tactical moves:
See my blog post on Maps, Activism and Technology: Check-in’s with a Purpose for more on the above picture.
Activists thus took deliberate and informed actions and used technology to synchronize those actions. How did the popular movement become this sophisticated? Young Egyptians had lots of practice. From the Kefeya movement of 2004, the elections of 2005 (and 2010), the April 6 movement of 2008 and the Khaled Said campaign of 2010. They learned from each confrontation and adapted their tactics and strategies accordingly. They reached out to others such as Otpor in Serbia for training and guidance. The Serbs met with Egyptian groups and “shared their own hard-won experience, as well as fundamental lessons of popular nonviolent resistance,” according to this article in The Atlantic. And they took inspiration from the writings of Gene Sharp.
The New York Times recently published an article on Sharp and Egypt entitled: “Shy US Intellectual Created Playbook Used in Revolution”. I have already blogged about Sharp’s work here and here so won’t repeat myself other than to conclude with this: protesting intelligently increases the chances of success. Protesting unprepared and spontaneously will not work, as I have written in this blog post regarding the Sudan protests. Repressive regimes are getting smart. It is important that resistance movements be smarter and better prepared.
The above tactics and strategies are but a sub-set of those used in Egypt. If you have other examples, please share them with readers by adding them in the comments section below. Thank you.