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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