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From Social Mobilisation to Political Organisation

From 2011-2015, ARI undertook a large-scale and multiphase project to investigate the new forms of mobilisation that emerged during the Arab Spring and the ensuing evolution in political organisation, focusing in particular on Egypt and trends stemming from the January 25 revolution. The project aimed to produce ethnographic studies of new movements and forms of organisation, publish an Arabic-language reader of the literature on social movements, and explore models for policy deliberation with civil society actors and activists.

In 2012, a series of policy dialogues were conducted between social activists, civil servants, and private sector representatives in order to map social networking resources. These dialogues resulted in the formation of the Social Movements Working Group, comprising 18 activists, researchers, civil society representatives, and university professionals representing the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), Cairo University, Helwan University, the American University of Cairo, Nazra for Feminist Studies, Believers without Borders, Dar El Hekma, Misr Al Qawia Party (Strong Egypt Party), the Arab Forum for Alternatives (AFA), Lausanne University, Stanford University, the Maspero Youth Union, and the Mina Daniel Coptic protest movement.

In 2013, the working group participated in a week-long training session to discuss the key concepts, authors, and texts of social movement theory, specifically as related to the Arab world. Ethnographic case studies were then carried out on the new social movements and forms of political organisation of ambulant vendors; the Ultras (clubs of football fans); the residents of Ramlet Boulaq; the Hazemoun Salafi movement; the Tahrir Doctors movement; the Ta’awon cooperative campaign; the debt-cancellation movement; Nubian mobilisation efforts; the Asqar Kazeboon group; youth graffiti groups; the organisation within Helwan factories and amongst Egyptian railway workers; emergent trade unions; and the cause lawyering movement.

In 2015, ARI finalised the 250-page social movement reader to be released in 2016. Written in Arabic, the reader covers the development of social mobilisation theory over the past 40 years and its impact on studying wide and small protest campaigns, movements and groups in transitional periods, and issues related to revolutionary contexts. The reader is designed to serve as a textbook on social movements targeting activists who are eager for models of mobilization strategies as well as scholars.

Finally, in 2015, the project also instigated three focus groups covering university student mobilisation, labor union mobilisation and the relationship between NGOs and the regime in order to explore multi-stakeholders policy deliberation models. The focus groups sought to identify influential actors in the three respective fields, investigate the legal framework regulating each, and conduct a preliminary survey with key figures to locate different policy priorities. Each group undertook a series of seven to nine monthly meetings. This work culminated in a report to be published in 2016, To Get Back on Policy Track, identifying the common features across the focus groups, the set of policy pre-requisites necessary to trigger a new round of negotiations, and the impact of internal group dynamics on policy debates. The report also explores the crisis of group representation and the need for a new generation of leaders in the wake of the Arab Spring.

Dina El Khawaga, ARI Programme Director, led this project.