This project, directed by Claire Talon, is the follow-up to a previous multi-phase research project conducted by ARI from 2014 to 2016 entitled “From Social Mobilization to Political Organization”, which documented a wide array of civil initiatives that dominated the Egyptian public sphere in the aftermath of the 2011 uprising. To that end, ARI produced 13 case studies on social movements, eight of which were published in January 2018 in a comprehensive e-book along with six policy papers that provide specific recommendations to various sectors.

Since 2013, repression on civil society actors in Egypt has escalated to unprecedented levels. The authorities have imposed a tight grip on the public space by waging war against human rights defenders and organizations in the form of travel bans, the freezing of financial assets, restriction on the right to assembly, the reform of the Egyptian Penal Code that criminalizes the work of major NGOs, and more classic strategies of intimidation and threat. This has considerably limited the repertoire of civic actions and reduced dramatically the possibilities of organization, forcing many organizations to limit, or even freeze, their activities.

However, findings of the research project From Social Mobilization to Political Organization have shown that pockets of engagement and real avenues for achieving meaningful change still exist. Social and political entrepreneurs and cultural activists have found meaningful alternative ways to resist and are carving spaces where democratic practices are geared toward social justice concerns. These new actors carry a vision, but they have few interlocutors and partners, and are fragile and uncertain about the success of their endeavours.

In this context, this project aims to:

  • Document the evolution of the forms of engagement and mobilization as well as emerging new political practices, venues, organizational models and stakeholders that contribute to a reinvention of participatory politics or imply a noticeable transformation of traditional politics.
  • Question how these groups are rethinking the relations between CSOs and their constituencies, on the one hand, and between the state and the local level with regards to policy-making, on the other, and how they are also challenging the state or parties’ ideologies.
  • Identify the issues that hinder the development of heterogeneous social movements, such as the need to establish sustainable relations between civil society groups/organizations and their base, the capacity for CSOs to reach out to local needs, or the ability to enlarge the frame of basic socio-economic demands into rights claims.

Documentary and Webdoc
In addition to this, a documentary film on new forms of youth engagement will be produced through another project implemented by ARI “Arab Youth as Political Actors” together with an interactive web documentary.

The documentary film illustrates the different research done and portrays the new ways of engagement in different parts of the MENA region. The outcome will be a linear documentary of 50 minutes and a series of short videos as part of a webdoc platform. These short videos will work as a series of advice tips for different activists. This audio-visual production is undertaken by two filmmakers from Barcelona, Marc Almodovar and Andreu Ros.

The story that the documentary will tell is that of engaged Arab youth as political actors, practising new forms of politics in non-traditional ways. This will include exploring how they do things differently, how they build or create agency even in highly restrictive contexts, the generational gap they perceive in both their understanding of “politics” and their action versus that of previous generations, new organizational models including horizontality, and the sense of hope and positivity that their participation generates within themselves. The documentary will thus focus on how the engaged youth and activists targeted in the studies are imagining politics in other ways, the various tools/strategies/organizational models they employ to generate both political and social change, and how their actions represent new ways of “being together” that break with traditional social and political norms and order.