donderdag 3 februari 2011

The April 6 Youth Movement

In the spring of 2008, over 100,000 users of the social networking website Facebook joined an online group to express solidarity with workers protesting in the Delta industrial city of al-Mahalla al-Kubra. As the protests escalated into a nationwide strike, the Facebook group gained momentum and eventually coalesced into a political movement known as the April 6 Youth Movement. Making extensive use of online networking tools, organizers of the movement urged followers to demonstrate their support for the workers by wearing black, staying at home, and boycotting products on the day of the strike. The group has since organized other protests and demonstrations including solidarity protests for Gaza and demonstrations in support of jailed journalists and bloggers. In 2009, the group still claimed a membership of around 70,000 young Egyptians, most of whom are well-educated and politically unaffiliated. Like Egypt’s other protest movements, the April 6 Youth Movement is not a formal political party, but it nonetheless provides an outlet for a new generation of politically conscious Egyptians.
Since its original strike in 2008, the April 6 Youth Movement has struggled to sustain its organizing capacity. Regime repression has contributed to the movement’s decline. During the original strike, security forces abused and harassed many of the group’s leaders and members, and the severity of the crackdown dampened enthusiasm for the movement. Anniversary strikes in 2009 and 2010 also ended in deadly violence when police acted to disperse the protesters. Although the movement was initially able to evade physical repression through the skillful deployment of social media and online networking, the regime has since undermined the movement’s technological advantage through propaganda and other media strategies. Following the most recent anniversary protest, the April 6 Youth Movement filed a lawsuit demanding the right to protest without police interference, but the case has been postponed until November 2010.

In July 2010, the April 6 Youth Movement announced a new anti-NDP campaign under the slogan, “Egypt is our Homeland, not Theirs.” The campaign aims to raise political awareness with a particular focus on the youth population. Its organizers have endorsed Mohammed ElBaradei’s seven-point petition and claim to have gathered over 5,000 signatures for the campaign as of August 2010.

Major Figures:
Asmaa Mahfouz: Founding member
Ahmed Maher: Founding member
Israa Abdel Fattah: Founding member
Mohammed Adel Amr Ali: Leading member and blogger
The April 6 Youth Movement was launched by young Egyptians and the movement continues to rely heavily on the support of youth. Two of the movement’s founding members, Israa Abdel Fattah and Ahmed Maher, were under the age of 30 when they created the original Facebook group. Although the movement has derived considerable energy and leverage from its young supporters, it has also struggled to reach more demographically diverse constituencies, and has not successfully cultivated a strong grassroots network beyond its Facebook group.

Use of social media:
The April 6 Youth Movement has made extensive use of social media and cell phone technology to mobilize its supporters, and over 70,000 Facebook users belong to the movement’s online group. The Facebook group functions as both a forum and powerful organizing tool for the movement’s members, who frequently post comments, photos and news reports to the page. Leaders meet online to debate issues, plan events, and mobilize the group’s members to participate in specific demonstrations. Members of the movement have used various Facebook features—including profile pictures and status update boxes—to protest repressive police measures and express solidarity with fellow activists who have been arrested or harassed.

As an informal group, the April 6 Youth Movement does not enter into official alliances with political parties. However, party leaders are attuned to its activities and have occasionally expressed solidarity with the movement. According to media reports, individual members of al-Ghad, Tagammu’, and the National Association for Change participated voluntarily in the April 6 Youth Movement’s 2010 demonstration, although their parties had not officially endorsed the protest. The movement has coordinated with Kifaya to stage protests with varying degrees of success.

In April 2009, the April 6 Youth Movement played an instrumental role in the formation of the Egyptian Coalition for Change, which called for the abrogation of all emergency laws, the drafting of a new constitution, and the annulment of the Camp David Accords (which normalized relations between Egypt and Israel in 1978). Other members of the coalition included the Kifaya movement, al-Karama, al-Wasat, and individual members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The April 6 Youth Movement has expressed support for the Muslim Brotherhood and publicly denounced the detention of Brotherhood members in August 2009. The movement has also backed Mohammed ElBaradei and the National Association for Change, and claims to have gathered over 5,000 signatures in support of the NAC’s seven-point petition for reform.

Promoting political reform through a strategy of non-violent resistance
Seeking to implement the principles of democratic governance
Maintaining the movement’s independence while at the same time striving to build coalitions with other opposition actors
Establishing the principles of democratic governance
Protecting the right to form parties and engage in the political process
Economic Issues:
Supporting the development of new technologies and citizens’ access to the internet
Websites: (official)(Arabic) (Facebook) (blog) (Twitter) (Arabic) (Code of April 6 Youth) (Arabic)

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