Egyptian Publics

by zunguzungu

Finally, some How-New-Media-Helps-the-Revolution talk from someone who really knows what he’s talking about with respect to Egypt:

The blogosphere that burst into existence in Egypt around 2004 and 2005 in many ways provided a new context for a process that had begun somewhat earlier, in the late 1990s: namely, the development of practices of coordination and support between secular leftist organizations and associations, and Islamist ones (particularly the Muslim Brotherhood)—a phenomenon almost completely absent in the prior decades. Toward the end of the decade of the 90s, Islamist and leftist lawyers began to agree to work together on cases regarding state torture, whereas in previous years, lawyers of one affiliation would almost never publicly defend plaintiffs from the other.

The most successful experiment at reaching across Egypt’s political spectrum came in 2004 with the emergence of what is called the Kifaya movement, a political formation that brought together Islamists, Muslim Brothers, communists, liberals, and secular-leftists, joined on the basis of a common demand for an end to the Mubarak regime and a rejection of Gamal Mubarak’s succession of his father as president. Kifaya was instrumental in organizing a series of demonstrations between 2004 and 2007 that for the first time explicitly called for the president of Egypt to step down, an unheard of demand prior to that moment insomuch as any direct criticism of the president or his family had until then always been taboo, and met by harsh reprisals from the state. Kifaya not only succeeded in bringing large numbers of people of different political persuasions into the street to protest government policies and actions, they were also the first political movement in Egypt to exploit the organizing potential of the Internet, founding a number of blog sites from which to coordinate and mobilize demonstrations and strikes. When Kifaya held its first demonstrations, at the end of 2004, a handful of bloggers both participated and wrote about the events on their blogs. Within a year the number of blogs had jumped to the hundreds. Today there are 1000s of blogs, many tied to activism, street politics, solidarity campaigns, and grassroots organizing. Many of the bloggers who helped promote the Kifaya movement have played key roles in the events of the past 10 days.

 That’s from Charles Hirschkind, Berkeley professor, and author of The Ethical Soundscape: Cassette Sermons and Islamic Counterpublics. He also wrote this piece yesterday, for the SF Chronicle, asking “How do we define US interests in Egypt?”

(If you’re in the Bay area, by the way, UC Berkeley’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies is putting on an event this Thursday, “Egypt: Reflections on the Uprising,” which will include Hirschkind as one of the panelists.)