The Road to Egypt's Tahrir Square: Social Movements in Convergence, Coalitions and Networks

The Road to Egypt's Tahrir Square: Social Movements in Convergence, Coalitions and Networks

Marwa Maziad (University of Washington, USA), Norah Abokhodair (University of Washington, USA) and Maria Garrido (University of Washington, USA)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 43
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2495-3.ch001
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On January 25th 2011, Egyptians revolted, thereby making history. Before the date, roads to political activism were being incrementally built towards their eventual converging on Tahrir Square. This chapter argues that “nodes of convergence,” defined as shared political and economic grievances, as well as shared virtual and physical spaces, had to be created first before mass mobilization for a collective action of millions on the street could ensue. Providing in-depth examination of events leading to January 25th, this chapter offers a case study for mobilization, from which generalized theory is extrapolated about online communities' convergence, networking, and coalition building. Two main Facebook pages were studied: April 6th Youth Movement and We Are All Khaled Said-- both in Arabic. The conceptualization is built on anthropological fieldwork trips in Egypt since March 2011. This covered ethnographic participant-observations and interviewing. For evidence triangulation purposes of the “convergence effect”, the authors conducted qualitative content analysis of significant posts.
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Conceptual Framework: Nodes Of Convergence

In this chapter, we argue that what we call “Nodes of Convergence”— defined as shared political and economic grievances on the one hand, as well as shared virtual and physical spaces on the other— had to be created first before mass mobilization for a collective action of millions on the street could ensue.

In this conceptualization, the Egyptian Uprising is not seen as a historical event, but rather as a historical process, rooted in a long record of Egyptian activism, and projected into a political and economic future that Egyptians are still currently painting, one brushstroke at a time. However, the reasons why the Uprising has been depicted as an event will also be delineated, given the way social media1 helped mobilize core segments of the young population, who in turn mobilized others towards the convergence on the specific date of January 25, 2011.

In news reports that came out during the process of the uprising, as well as in subsequent myriad academic studies conducted, the interplay between digital media and acts of mobilization has been recognized as essential. However, the extent of digital media’s impact has also been debated. In this chapter, while we do acknowledge the nature of social media that helped construct the “Nodes of Convergence” we conceptualize, we move beyond reductionist techno-determinist enchantment with a so- called “Facebook” and “Twitter” Revolutions to ascertain the complex and dynamic online and offline political history and communication strategies, which actual members of various affiliations employed, in order to cooperate together in real and virtual life, for the purpose of inducing political and social change.

“Nodes of Convergence,” we argue, were formed when specific actors— employing social media—performed tasks, communicated and publicly deliberated with various other actors including governmental, non-governmental and international organizations as well as global movements pursuing similar goals. We examine the Egyptian case study in order to highlight how this conceptual framework of “Nodes of Convergence” brought in dynamic citizen engagement and communication practices to mobilize the population.

January 25, 2011, is a significant date of Convergence because not too long before it, some Egyptian intellectuals were actually asking “Why Don’t Egyptians Revolt?” In fact, that was a title of a series of articles written by Alaa Al Aswany (2010), a well-known liberal Egyptian author oppositional to the Mubarak regime, and whose name has been intertwined with the Egyptian revolutionaries. Al Aswany was rhetorically asking and analyzing in his articles why Egyptians seemed to have accepted the political stagnation of almost 30 years under the same ruler.

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