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Bring in the Hooligans - Lessons in Coalition Building

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

A lesson in coalition building comes to us from Egypt via the New York Times. In an analysis of the build-up to the Egyptian Revolution, two NYT reporters show us how careful planning of events and allies led to one of the most important political events of our time in the region. The coalition that made such an impact consists of young people from Serbia, Tunisia, and Egypt, American and Russian intellectuals (some of them dead), Facebook groups, marketing specialists - and hooligans.

David Kirkpatrick and David Sanger of the NYT write that the Egyptian Revolution had been in the makes for two years, starting with an exchange between an Egyptian youth movement, Youth for Change, and a Serbian one, Otpor. Otpor had been instrumental in overthrowing Slobodan Milosevic. This group drew on the work of an American intellectual, Gene Sharp, who argues that the best weapon against violent repression is non-violent protest - it doesn't give the police the excuse to use violence in order to preserve stability. The coalition was joined by Marxist/Leninist Think Tanks and Google marketing executive turned media hero Wael Ghonim. Ideas were shared via ICT and support was mobilized through Facebook. Practical advice about how to counteract tear gas with lemons and soda came from the revolutionaries in Tunisia. When the young protestors in Egypt took their opposition to the streets, the Muslim Brotherhood, experienced in orchestrating underground operations, joined them. Street cred - and the knowledge about how to deal with confrontations with the police - came from the fans of Egypt's two leading soccer teams.

"They fused their secular expertise in social networks with a discipline culled from religious movements and combined the energy of soccer fans with the sophistication of surgeons" Kirkpatrick and Sanger write about the unlikely mix that turned into a well thought-out coalition with, obviously, immense strength and staying power. It's a formula for coalition building that we should transfer to other (possibly less revolutionary) efforts to achieve change: communication expertise, discipline, energy, and sophistication.

 Picture: Al Jazeera English


Submitted by Paula on
Great article and thanks for posting. One more part of the equation- sustained capacity-building and training. Otpor received a considerable amount of funding from USAID which supported their training of activists, some of which is discussed in the PBS documentary "Bringing Down a Dictator" about the fall of Milosevic. Now Otpor is passing their lessons learned onto others.

Submitted by s masty on
not being 500+ years old yet, i had to rely on second- or third-hand information on the political impact of Gutenberg's printing press. Fascinating to see how modern technology spreads across the public sphere.

Gone are the days that we were told that Africans ans Arabs are not yet ripe for democracy. Today the world is witnessing one of the great founding aspirations of the United Nations' founding fathers being realized, that is, the Enlargement of Freedom. Whether the world powers like it or not, whether the ruthless lootocrats in Africa like it or not; freedom and democracy are advancing at a speed unfathomed by any intellectual prophet. In Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and now Libya young people have defied bullets and death from the hands of ruthless rulers in order to defeat tyranny. The one instrument that has led them to success is the courage to defeat fear. In most of these tyrannies most of which are in Sub-Saharan Africa, fear is institutionalized. Citizens are terrified each time they see a uniformed officer. Today, North African youths have taught us that one could without sticks and stones defeat armoured vehicles, the shooting of snippers and missile launchers. Youths in Sub-Saharan Africa must prepare themselves for the great liberation challenge that lies ahead of them. The tyrants they shall be confronting include: Paul Biya of Cameroon, Eduardo Dos Sanatos of Angola, Museveni of Uganda, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Gbagbo of Ivory Coast, Iddriss Debby of Tchad, the Bongo dynasty in Gabon, Theodoro Obing of Equatorial Guinea and Sassou Nguesso of Congo. These guys routinely organise and win all elections having corrupted the electoral process at all levels and at times openly stealing the vote with the support of the very powers that now shamelessly speak for democracy and freedom. Youths in Sub-Saharan Africa need training on how to network, organise non-violent mass actions and how to confront armed security services. Fear is the last enemy. While other scientiofic suggestions are welcome, the Bible in John 16:33 enjoins believers to overcome fear and confront life's problems because He/Christ has overcome the world. It is this eternal grace that has been leading the youths of North Africa and the Middle East to chart new grounds opf greater freedom. With faith in the Living God, let youths in Sub-Saharan Africa take the battle when the Holy Spirit shall signal the hour of liberation for this part of the world.

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