The Long and Winding Road

Higher Committees and such are nice, but grassroots organizing is better.

Like everyone else, we’ve been focusing on ElBaradei, and the steadily climbing number of supporters he’s attracted on the “ElBaradei for President” Facebook page (up almost 40,000 since his interview with Mona al-Shazly on Sunday). This has led us to thinking about the logical next steps for the campaign mobilizing around ElBaradei.

But first, a digression: There was, at some point, a rash of articles concerned with the question, “Why are so many terrorists engineers?” Most of which drew the wrong conclusions. We’re more interested in is the question of why so many prominent Egyptian bloggers are computer programmers or at least so tech savvy that we don’t understand what they’re talking about when words like “ubuntu” are bandied about.

The (rather banal) point is that, if ElBaradei or his ideas are to stand a fighting chance, the spontaneous movement that has arisen needs to move beyond “clicktivism” to actual mobilization. From URL to IRL, as it were. The best way we’ve thought of to do this is to harness his online popularity to create a new social network specifically for his supporters, that allows smaller groups (“Ain Shams University Faculty of Architecture Students for ElBaradei” or “Zamalek Housewives for ElBaradei,” ad infinitum) to meet offline and to engage in political action, even if said action is as simple as holding a teach-in about ElBaradei or organizing a bake sale.

This is crucial for at least three reasons:

First, engaging in politics is going to take some getting used to. The first step was joining the Facebook group, which wasn’t that hard. Second could be joining an ElBaradei-centered social network, the aim of which, like the one that arose during the Obama campaign, will be both to preserve and grow the community while also allowing for the rise of affinity groups, whether geographical, professional or what have you, with the eventual aim of having members of these groups engaging in politics in the offline world.

Second, if ElBaradei does actually run, organization and the “ground game” will obviously be crucial in getting out the vote, mobilizing supporters, etc. Doing some grassroots or netroots organization now, to identify potential leaders and, more than anything else, to create a solid constituency for change, will obviously be a big help. Even if he doesn’t run, organizing around his espoused goals is a worthy goal in itself.

Third, it has quickly become the conventional wisdom that the long arm of the regime can’t touch ElBaradei himself. One still outstanding question is how the regime will react in the face of what it will inevitably see as “provocations” (like breaking the emergency law) that will occur if his supporters do organize. In short, how far does ElBaradei’s security umbrella extend? Our guess is that the regime wouldn’t hesitate to arrest people if they actually felt threatened, but that ElBaradei’s supporters will be given more leeway than other groups that aren’t headed by internationally respected figures, because the good doctor has a megaphone that these other groups don’t have, and like everyone else, the regime abhors bad press.

The bottom line is that we think ElBaradei is naive to think that the power of his ideas alone will lead Egypt to become a social democratic country, and believe that it will take some prodding and testing of limits. The airport greeting was only the first instance of this, and was somewhat insulated by the presence of cameras and ElBaradei himself. We’re more interested to see what will happen when a group of supporters organizes a literacy program in Qalyubiya or a neighborhood cleanup in Agouza.

None of this is nuclear science, of course, and we’re leaving huge questions open, like how to organize the majority of Egyptians who aren’t online. But we do think that organizing and directing the tremendous outpouring of energy that has occurred in the wake of ElBaradei’s return will be decisive in determining whether the movement fizzles out, confined to the steps of the Journalists’ Syndicate, or becomes something larger.

As the Brotherhood or al-Aswani might say, “التنظيم هو الحل”



Filed under Politics

4 responses to “The Long and Winding Road

  1. I think your concern about “clicktivism” (or “slacktivism” as I believe Morozov terms it) is a really valid one. Nice idea to combat this by piggy backing the online momentum by localizing supporter groups, but is this a realistic possibility?

    • nottooshaabi

      We’re not sure why it wouldn’t or couldn’t be a realistic possibility. Is your objection political or logistical?
      We think the signal accomplishment of ElBaradei’s movement so far has been to get usually nonpolitical people into politics, and, as we said in the post, there needs to be some way to carry that momentum forward.

  2. ElMo2dab

    Hope it lasts.. and so far it has not been just clicktivism or wutever they call it. Go Baradei!

  3. Pingback: Odds and ends | Ben Schiller

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