Tag Archives: civilresistance

Civil Resistance Tactics Used in Egypt’s Revolution #Jan25

It’s easy to overlook the importance of civil resistance savviness when talking about the protests that forced the hand of power in Egypt. The media placed Facebook, Twitter and YouTube on center stage as if actors in their own right. What struck me most, however, was how well-trained and disciplined the movement was. I believe this had a pivotal impact on the outcome of the protests. Identifying the specific tactics and strategies used in Egypt is important to balance the focus on technology. It is equally important to explain how the popular resistance acquired those skills so others might do the same.

Above is the first page of a 26-page how-to guide circulated in both hard- and electronic-copy during the first wave of protests in Egypt. The document was translated into English by The Atlantic and outlines a number of critical points central to civil resistance, including very specific demands on the Mubarak regime; concrete goals for the popular resistance and tactical steps to achieve these stated goals. The guide also provided tips on what protection gear to wear and how to engage the police with the use of spray paint.

Ahmed Salah, one of the co-founders of the April 6th movement,  later recounted how they mobilized protesters:

Starting in the alleys was not a random decision. It makes tactical and strategic sense regardless of the technology used to coordinate this. Starting small and away from the main protests is a safe way to pool protesters together. It’s also about creating an iterative approach to a “strength in numbers” dynamic. As more people crowd the smaller the streets, this gives a sense of momentum and confidence. Starting in alley ways localizes the initiative. People are likely neighbors and join because they see their friend or sister out in the street. This tactic figured as a drawing in the 26-page guide:

The guide also stressed the need to remain peaceful and not engage in sabotage. The discipline of remaining non-violent is instrumental in civil resistance. Engaging in violence provides government forces with the excuse they’re looking for to clamp down on protesters and delegitimize them in a public way. The guide also recommends that activists try to win over the police and army instead of attacking them. The protesters behind this guide were clearly well trained and knew what they were doing. They even provided several Google Earth screen shots of different parts of the city to recommend tactical moves:

See my blog post on Maps, Activism and Technology: Check-in’s with a Purpose for more on the above picture.

Activists thus took deliberate and informed actions and used technology to synchronize those actions. How did the popular movement become this sophisticated? Young Egyptians had lots of practice. From the Kefeya movement of 2004, the elections of 2005 (and 2010), the April 6 movement of 2008 and the Khaled Said campaign of 2010. They learned from each confrontation and adapted their tactics and strategies accordingly.  They reached out to others such as Otpor in Serbia for training and guidance. The Serbs met with Egyptian groups and  “shared their own hard-won experience, as well as fundamental lessons of popular nonviolent resistance,” according to this article in The Atlantic.  And they took inspiration from the writings of Gene Sharp.

The New York Times recently published an article on Sharp and Egypt entitled: “Shy US Intellectual Created Playbook Used in Revolution”. I have already blogged about Sharp’s work here and here so won’t repeat myself other than to conclude with this: protesting intelligently increases the chances of success. Protesting unprepared and spontaneously will not work, as I have written in this blog post regarding the Sudan protests. Repressive regimes are getting smart. It is important that resistance movements be smarter and better prepared.

The above tactics and strategies are but a sub-set of those used in Egypt. If you have other examples, please share them with readers by adding them in the comments section below. Thank you.


Maps, Activism and Technology: Check-In’s with a Purpose

“Having a real-time map, complete with satellite photos, of where everyone is at any one moment is almost as good as having your own helicopter overhead — maybe better, if you can distract the crew of the helicopter.”

As recently announced on the Ushahidi blog, the group is launching a check-in service a la Foursquare called “Crowdmap : Check-In’s” or just CI for short. I’m excited by the different applications that a free and open-source check-in-with-a-purpose platform can have for social impact. In this blog post, I’ll share some ideas on how activists might use CI for popular nonviolent movements when the service is launched next month at SxSW 2011. I will also highlight another very cool project called Sukey, which was just launched in the UK.

Services like Foursquare provide a location-based mobile social networking platform that allows users to check-in at different venues to earn points and connect with friends. CI will work in a similar way but will allow users to create their very own “Foursquares”. This means that CI’s can be project- or group-specific, i.e., bounded to certain networks. Users will decide themselves where and what kind of points and badges to award to members of their CI network.

This quick check-in service has obvious applications for students coordinating nonviolent protests, especially when they need to rapidly adapt to a changing situation. I this saw again recently in Egypt when pro-Mubarak thugs were swarming certain avenues of downtown Cairo. I recall seeing a picture shared on Twitter with tactical drawings suggesting where anti-Mubarak protestors should position themselves as a result. This was drawn on a screenshot taken from satellite imagery of an area in the center of Cairo. (I spent an hour trying to find the original picture again but to no avail, so if you know which one I’m referring to, please get in touch. The one below is for illustration only).

With Internet and cell phone networks back up, protesters could use a check-in service to let others know where the thugs are being sighted and to recommend different locations to retreat or advance to. This would be a like a geo-tagged status update that could also be shared on your Facebook page or Twitter feed (minding the security implications). In addition, one could have pre-designated tags like “Thugs here”, “Don’t go here”, “Evacuate” etc., to avoid having to type when checking in. Call it the Q-CI feature, quick check-in’s.

These alerts or status updates could then be embedded geographically, something like geo-caching. So if I happen to check in within a hundred meters of someone who just recently updated their CI status as “evacuate”, I would get an immediate pop-up message showing me these nearby updates. Someone helping to coordinate the protests remotely from a laptop could quickly embed areas (rather than points) as  no-go zones if one or more updates show up with the tag “evacuate” at a given venue. Integrating Ushahidi’s new geometry mapping feature would make this possible.

A related project that I really like comes from the same student group in the UK that used live tactical mapping for protest swarming last year. The team has since designed and launched their very own mobile check-in platform to facilitate tactical maneuvering during demonstrations, keep protesters safe and avoid kettling:

“Kettling, also known as containment or corralling, is a police tactic for the management of large crowds during demonstrations or protests. It involves the formation of large cordons of police officers who then move to contain a crowd within a limited area. Protesters are left only one choice of exit, determined by the police, or are completely prevented from leaving” (1).

The project, called Sukey, is an excellent example of Maptivism. The name comes from the nursery rhyme: “Polly put the kettle on, Sukey take it off again.”

All you have to do is point your smart phone browser (it doesn’t have to be an iPhone!) to http://www.sukey.org/a to access the tactical map. The screenshot above is from their entertaining and helpful tutorial which you can access here. I really like the use of their simple “safety compass” which gives you immediate situational awareness about which direction safety (and danger) lies. The compass is specific to your GPS location and is updated in real-time as new reports are submitted by activists. These reports can be shared with all the other protesters and appear in the red box below the map.

If you don’t have a smart phone, Sukey relays updates via their Twitter feed which users can subscribe to via SMS thanks to Twitter’s SMS-following service. All you need to do is text “follow @sukeysms” to 8644. What if you forgot your phone at home? One protester noted that “Everyone who was getting the Sukey updates was telling everyone who wasn’t what was happening.”

As an unhappy security analyst recently noted,

“The proliferation of highly capable handheld ‘smartphones’ now makes it easy for protest organizers to communicate by voice, text and images, even with real-time video. The protesters may have more watchers and observation points than the police, and actually outpace the police in quantity and quality of intelligence. Having this kind of information available has made it possible for disrupters to create decoy incidents to draw resources away from where they are needed most. Having a real-time map, complete with satellite photos, of where everyone is at any one moment is almost as good as having your own helicopter overhead — maybe better, if you can distract the crew of the helicopter.”

Protesters claim they successfully avoided police kettling this week by using Sukey. If you’d like to learn more, I highly recommend this excellent piece by the UK Guardian on the project. I think Ushahidi can learn a lot from this group so I will be meeting with the team in London next month. In the meantime, I’m really looking forward to SxSW and Sukey II. In a future post, I’ll describe how check-in’s-with-a-purpose platforms can also be used for humanitarian relief and disaster response.

Civil Resistance: Early Lessons Learned from Sudan’s #Jan30

Sudanese activists in Khartoum have shared early reflections on how they can improve their efforts. These lessons are applicable to others engaged in civil resistance and are therefore shared below.

Source 1:

There was insufficient clear communication leading up to the first protest, which led to the first mistake since NCP members were able to fake a delay of the event which mean that we lost a considerable number of our protesters.

The timing of the protest was also off.  You can not except an average Sudanese citizen to protest on the 30th of January after he just got his salary. The satisfaction of that will cover up the feeling of injustices and humiliation. So if a date is set up, it should be the 15th, 16th or 17th (the depression days in the Sudanese dictionary). Also, we can not except protesters to participate in something like this at 11:00am or 11:30am when every body is either in the middle of their job or on the way to it.

And we forget the main factor: the youth. Most of them are students that constrained with lecture attendance sheets: the Sudanese universities are very extreme in that matter since 2005 and students are failed out of class by teachers for skipping more than 25% of lectures, which means they would need to repeat the course or the whole year). So the time should change to 2:00pm or 2:30pm.

In the matter of using Facebook as our only connection yes we can recruit youth and talk to them about the problem that they are facing but in order to transfer from Facebook to the Sudanese reality you need a prepared arena, i.e., at least 50% of the city residents need to know what you will do before you do it. So I suggest more communication with the public before a month at least from the event and this needs creativity and persuasiveness.

Source 2:

… I met two friends and went up the road towards the presidential place at the end of the street. There was massive policemen presence and young people wandering around. I knew that they were confused about where the demonstration would begin. People did not know who were with them and who were against them. When we got closer to cross of Baladiya street with Qasar, people were running away, we kept moving and we saw people in plain clothes with policemen beating four persons, they were about 20 policemen and those  people in plain clothes, armed with stick and pipe, beating very hard those four persons, on chest, head and arms. This scene discouraged people to demonstrate, and of course that was the message security forces were trying to send.

Source 3:

We were very much predictable to the NCP members, we shouldn’t underestimate them in that matter we are dealing with people who have experience in destroying events like this cause the Sudanese didn’t change their ways in that matter since 1985 when they where the one’s who applied them with the rest of the parties… I have many thoughts about how we could work this event out. We also need someone from Egypt to tell us more about organizing and monitoring then we can readjust it to fit Sudan case.

There are some good resources (in Arabic) for activists in the Sudan and the Arab World (please contact me if you’d like copies):

  • Nonviolent Struggle – 50 Crucial Points.
  • Twitter for Activism.

There is also a Crowdmap on the protests in Khartoum which activists are contributing to.