Tag Archives: #Jan25

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.

 

How to Use Facebook if You Are a Repressive Regime

As it happens, the main country case studies for my dissertation are Egypt and the Sudan. I’ll have to write a whole lot more given the unprecedented events that have taken place in both countries since January 25th. As many iRevolution readers know, my dissertation analyzes how access to new information and communication technologies changes the balance of power between repressive regimes and popular resistance movements. This means I’m paying close attention to how these regimes leverage tools like Facebook.

The purpose of this blog post is not to help repressive regimes use Facebook better, but rather to warn activists about the risks they face when using Facebook. Granted, many activists already know about these risks, but those I’ve been in touch with over the past few weeks simply had no idea. So what follows is a brief account of how repressive regimes in North Africa have recently used Facebook to further their own ends. I also include some specific steps that activists might take to be safer—that said, I’m no expert and would very much welcome feedback so I can pass this on to colleagues.

We’ve seen how Facebook was used in Tunisia, Egypt and the Sudan to schedule and organize the recent protests. What we’ve also seen, however, is sophistication and learning on the part of repressive regimes—this is nothing new and perfectly expected with plenty of precedents. The government in Tunis was able to hack into every single Facebook account before the company intervened. In Egypt, the police used Facebook to track down protesters’ names before rounding them up. Again, this is nothing new and certainly not unprecedented. What is new, however, is how Sudan’s President Bashir leveraged Facebook to crack down on recent protests.

The Sudanese government reportedly set up a Facebook group calling for protests on a given date at a specific place. Thousands of activists promptly subscribed to this group. The government then deliberately changed the time of the protests on the day of to create confusion and stationed police at the rendez-vous point where they promptly arrested several dozen protestors in one swoop. There are also credible reports that many of those arrested were then tortured to reveal their Facebook (and email) passwords.

And that’s not all. Earlier this week, Bashir called on his supporters to use Facebook to push back against his opposition. According to this article from the Sudan Tribune, the state’s official news agency also “cited Bashir as instructing authorities to pay more attention towards extending electricity to the countryside so that the younger citizens can use computers and internet to combat opposition through social networking sites such as Facebook.”

So what are activists to do? If they use false names, they run the risk of getting their accounts shut down without warning. Using a false identity won’t prevent you from falling for the kind of mouse trap that the Bashir government set with their fabricated Facebook page. Using https won’t help either with this kind of trap and I understand that some regimes can block https access anyway. So what to do if you are in a precarious situation with a sophisticated repressive regime on your back and if, like 99% of the world’s population, you are not an expert in computer security?

1. Back-up your Facebook account: Account –> Account Settings –> Download your information –> Learn more. Click on the Download button.

2. Remove all sensitive content from your Facebook page including links to activist friends, but keep your real name and profile picture. Why? So if you do get arrested and are forced to give up your password, you actually have something to give to your aggressors and remain credible during the interrogation.

3. Create a new Facebook account with a false name, email address and no picture and minimize incriminating content. Yes, I realize this may get you shut down by Facebook but is that as bad as getting tortured?

4. Create an account on Crabgrass. This social networking platform is reportedly more secure and can be used anonymously. A number of activists have apparently switched from Facebook to Crabgrass.

6. If you can do all of the above while using Tor, more power to you. Tor allows you to browse the web anonymously, and this is really important when doing the above. So I highly recommend taking the time to download and install Tor before you do any of the other steps above.

5. Try to validate the authenticity of a Facebook group that calls for a protest (or any in-person event for that matter) before going to said protest. As the Sudan case shows, governments may increasingly use this tactic to arrest activists and thwart demonstrations.

6. Remember that your activist friends may have had their Facebook accounts compromised. So when you receive a Facebook message or a note on your wall from a friend about meeting up in person, try to validate the account user’s identity before meeting in person.

If you have additional recommendations on how to use Facebook safely, or other examples of how repressive regimes have leveraged Facebook, please do add them in the comments section below for others to read and learn. Thank you.

Using a Map to Bear Witness in Egypt #Jan25

[Cross-posted from the Ushahidi blog]

The Cairo-based Development and Institutionalization Support Center (DISC) has just launched their #U-Shahid map below. DISC previously used the Ushahidi platform to monitor the country’s Parliamentary Elections last November and December  (see this post for more info). This means they already know the technology and have a trained network of active crisis mappers that can verify reports before they are mapped.

The events in Egypt over the past two weeks have been nothing short of unprecedented. The Mubarak regime clamped down on many forms of communication including the Internet, cell phones and SMS. There were also reports of landline phones being blocked. The word still go out, however. And with Internet access now restored, the map will get out as well just as it did in the Sudan over the past few days.

DISC has mapped some 50 reports based on events that took place over the past week. Take this report below, for example, which includes a YouTube video of protests. The map includes dozens of categories, including Riots, Breaking and looting, Arrests, Violence against protesters, Spraying water and Firing tear gas, for example.

Notice how DISC has made it very easy to share information on individual events by allow direct Tweeting, Facebook posting, etc.

The group has also enabled the subscribe to alerts feature, which allows individuals to automatically get reports sent to their email and cell phone.

Since Egypt just got back online, we expect the map to receive more reports in the coming days. Perhaps the group may also end up using the dedicated Ushahidi smart phone apps to distribute the mapping further.

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) launched this Jan 25th CrowdMap in Cairo days before the regime shut down Internet access. It hasn’t been updated since but there are now discussions about reactivating the map to provide information on the location of ATMs, for example.

An ongoing and pressing concern about these maps (and others) is of course security. Crisis maps can depict important information that can be used for good and ill. We hope local groups that use these tools in non-permissive environments take every precaution possible when doing so as repressive regimes are becoming more sophisticated in electronic surveillance.  To learn more about communicating safely in such situations, we recommend some of the following links:

Crisis mapping is redefining the way we think about maps. Today’s maps are alive and dynamic. They are not hard copy static objects like this historical map of Ancient Egypt dating from 1,450 BC. Maps, like books, were written by the winners, the elite. They reflected and projected power. They depicted a fixed reality through one lens.

Today’s crisis maps can give voice to the distributed voiceless. They integrate tools like email, SMS, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, etc. What does this all add up to? “Will the triangulated crisis map be regarded as the new first draft of history?” asks New York Times journalist Anand Giridharadas. He considers some of the implications in this excellent piece,

“They say that history is written by the victors. But now, before the victors win, there is a fresh chance to scream out, with a text message that will not vanish. What we would know about what passed between Turks and Armenians, between Germans and Jews — and indeed would it have happened at all — if each of them had had a chance to declare and be heard saying: ‘I was here, and this is what happened to me?’”

Crisis Mapping Egypt: Collection of Protest Maps (Updated)

The CrisisMappers Twitter feed has shared a number of maps depicting the ongoing protests in Egypt. Here is a collection of them. Do let me know if we’re missing any. To learn more about crisis mapping, read this blog post: What is Crisis Mapping? and join www.CrisisMappers.net. For a protest map of the demonstrations in Khartoum, Sudan, see this link.

Update: The Cairo-based Development and Institutionalization Support Center (DISC) has launched the Ushahidi map below. DISC has previously used the platform to monitor the country’s Parliamentary Elections last November and December  (see this post for more info).

Update: These Twitter maps Hypercities provide another way to visualize the event unfolding across the country.

Update: Storyful has this Google Map of the protests in downtown Cairo:

Update: OpenEgypt, an independent group of volunteers have set up the Open Egypt Crowdmap below:

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) has put up this Jan 25th CrowdMap:

The company ESRI has produced the following Web Map of Egypt:

The New York Times has also put this protest map together:

Finally, the LA Times has this map up on their website:

How I’m following the developments in Egypt (Updated)

How to follow a 21st century revolution. What sources am I missing?

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