“Tunis is the force that pushed Egypt, but what Egypt did will be the force that will push the world.”
One of the members of April 6 Youth Movement in Eygpt, Walid Rachid, proclaimed to the New York Times.
The uprising in Egypt, indeed, inspires people from many totalitarian states including my country, Burma. And it also provides a good case study about the rise of social movements.
Social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter are highly credited in the victory of the recent people protests in Egypt. In last October, Malcolm Gladwell wrote an article, “why the revolution will not be twitted” on the New Yorker – by stating “social media cannot provide what social change has always required.” Now, I wonder how Gladwell will take on the Egypt’s movements.
Unlike any previous revolutions in history, the uprising in Egypt showed the world without any structured leadership, and particularly, without the leadership of a traditional political party, the movements initiated by mostly by young students on internet through Facebook groups and twitter blogs can bring down a long-well established regime.
People in media, academic, and politics found in amazed how quickly and effectively groupings in virtual world and online organizers can mobilize thousands of people to turn themselves up on the streets for the same good cause and bring a long and established regime.
Young Burmese activists are quick in setting up new Facebook groups alike Egypt’s April 6 Revolution’s Facebook group. And scholars and media critics on Burmese affairs are locking in the debates if Burma is going to have a similar people uprisings started on internet.
However, it seems that dreams are cut short down when people start complaining about the slow and heavily censored internet connection in Burma. And, they reasons that there are only about 110,000 internet users out of the 55 millions of total population. And, the government is the internet service’s sole provider in the country where majority of the internet users do not have an internet access at home and most of the internet users get internet service at internet cafés, where police routinely checks internet history on computers, leaving alone the facts – twitter, youtube, gmail and other web-based mail sites are already banned inside the country.
The Irrawaddy Magazine, one of the Burmese media in exile, recently published an article, “Could Burma’s Next Uprising Begin on the Internet?” The article did not bring the issue further than stating obstacles and risks involved before jumping in the concluding the Burmese regime is too brutal to see Burmese on the streets again soon.
However, the power of social media and micro-blogging sites are not the only things we can learn and get inspired from the Egyptian protests. How to use internet and how to set up Facebook group and getting twitter account are not the only things young Egypt learned and prepared for the movement.
Contrary to the popular fact – young Egyptian with mere interests in politics stayed on streets for a few days and their merely several-days long protests managed seeing the end of the Mubarak regime, actually, the victory the Egyptians reap is not an overnight victory. And, it is not the victory the Egyptians have because the dictator Hosni Mubarak runs out of luck. It is the victory the Egyptians reaps out of their zeal efforts for a long period of time.
We, Burmese, need to understand how well young Egyptians have prepared for this movement and how long they waited for the right time while keeping the flame of the revolution alive.
In the article of the Irrawaddy Magazine, it stated, “Burmese are not strangers to revolution.” It is true but, what we are never familiar with is the movements conducted in an organized and prepared manner.
Like in Burma, political freedom and freedom of expressions have been banned out of the country for so long in Egypt and many of the young Egyptian joined the protests have had no prior experience in politics but it does not mean they have lack of education and understanding in politics. These young Egyptians well-read texts in nonviolent contents and they themselves get educated and familiarize with the nonviolent movements around the world through the studies why and why not the revolutions in other countries pursued succeed.
The New York Times reported that they read a wide range of non-violent works from Gandi, Dr. Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela to the works of American thinker on nonviolent struggle, Gene Sharp.
Many young Egyptian did not agree the idea to sit down and wait for the ill-fated time of the dictator. Neither did they believe that it was the only way the country would be liberated out of its strong Mubarak authoritarian regime.
Instead, for the past years, young Egyptians, mostly educated ones, had actively looked for the tactics and strategies which would find the end of the long dictatorship system in the country. They organized an online political movement, called April 6 Youth Movement by adopting the strategies a Serbian youth campaign, known as Otpor, used in their campaign which successfully overthrown the then dictator of Serbian and Yugoslavia, Slobodan Miloševi, from power in 2000.
The New York Times mentioned that some of the April 6 Movement organizers even travelled to Serbia to meet with Otpor activists in 2000s. They seek advices from leaders of Otpor, whose movements and strategies were greatly influenced by the non-violent works of Gene Sharp.
And Egyptian expatriates weighted in educating the young people inside the country about the non-violence movements by establishing a center in Qatar called the Academy of Change. It is very impressive to learn that the center provides young Egyptians ideas on social movements and understanding theories on civil rights movements sticky to the belief in the non-violence practices. On their website, you could find translated books on civil disobedient and non-violent texts in Arabic language.
Moreover, the movement allied with people in different professions. And each individual brings their personal strength and their studies in the different fields to the revolutions. For example, Wael Gonim, who becomes a unlikely leader /hero of this uprising, is a Google marketing executive savvy in technology. And, he has contributed to the movements with his marketing strategies and tactics as well in mobilizing people.
When I read the New York Times’ article, one of the protest organizers said, “we pulled out all the tricks of the game – the Pepsi, the onion, the vinegar,” most of us who did not know about the use of them – we would say like – what the hell they are doing with onion in the movements.
The protesters in Egypt did well prepare for the worst. They did not hope that an abusive dictator would give in and let the protests go undisturbed. They brought along the hand-on materials such as putting onions and vinegar in their scarf or under their hats so that the sit-in would last long and support the momentum of the protest when tear gas was used by polices to crack down the protests.
And you would also see in the protests people wearing the cardboard as under their shirts and wearing water bottle on their heads – they are equiped to protect themselves and to make the rate of injuries and casualties as least as possible if the police beat or shoot them.
‘Hope for the best but prepare for the worst’ was a popular quote that Burmese national hero, General Aung San, used when he alarmed the nation at the time the country was fighting for its independence from British. However, it was always a question in the recent uprisings in Burma how well we prepared for the worst. It is always too naive to hope that the junta, one of the most brutal regimes in the world, would not shoot the protesters.
Most of the time, the last-minute strategy many Burmese activists in exile ever come up was – wishing for the worst scenario and hoping that it will turn itself into a turning point of the whole event. Or, urging people in the United States to call their senators to urge the government take some action against the Burmese regime. It is not surprised that these strategies never produce good results because unarmed and unprepared protesters had to run and the protests were doomed when the army began to open fire to the crowd. The U.S. does nothing more than issuing the statement condemning the government’s action or at most, we can expect extending the sanction against the Burmese regime??
Eventually, the attention of media was moving away from Burma and the images of marching monks and students were fading out in the minds of their readers around the world. At the end, we see no change. Rather, one more was added onto the list of Burma’s failure revolutions.
If we did not learn how to conduct a revolution before, the uprising in Egypt and the victory of people power there provides us as a good learning opportunity. And our dreams should not simply cut short on the fact that internet connection is an obstacle and the U.S. President Obama cannot influence on the Burmese generals and he cannot issue signals to the army to stand by the protesters. Young Egyptians organized April 6 Youth Movement several years ago not because they knew for sure that the Egyptian army would stand with them. And, not because they could predict the role and power of coming social media – Facebook, twitter, or Youtube in mobilizing people to join the good cause.
They trained and studied for the revolution simply because they were determined to take the dictatorship system down from the country with any possible tools. They studied really hard. We should not ignore the fact that the revolution the Egyptian fought and won is not the one turned out from an accident. It is a planned revolution. It is a pre-announced revolution. Power of social media becomes effective only because they had completed the prior tasks to launch a political campaign and they got their homework right.