From a Facebook Group to a Social Movement: The Trajectory of the April 6th Youth Movement and the Revolution in Egypt

Over the past few months, the research team behind the Youth, ICTs, and Democracy in Egypt project has collected and coded a series of Facebook posts, blogs,  newspapers, and interviews with key actors to tease out the different roles social media played in the trajectory of the April 6 Youth Movement in Egypt (A6YM).

A6YM represents a unique case of contemporary collective action because it gathered its impetus and momentum to become a mobilizing force in the country from its presence on Facebook. The April 6 Youth Movement is an Egyptian political opposition movement created by some Egyptian youth and established in 2008. It appeared in the political arena after the general strike which Egypt witnessed on April 6, 2008, called for by Mahalla workers, supported by the political forces, and adopted by young people such as Esraa Abdel Fattah and Ahmed Maher. Fattah and Maher began promoting it on March 22, 2008  through a Facebook group called “General Strike for All the People of Egypt.” Within a few days the news about the strike on the Facebook group spread rapidly reaching over 75,000 members and becoming the biggest group in Arabic on Facebook at the time.  After the arrests of two of the group administrators, a failed call for another general strike on May 4, and a series of gatherings among supporters of the Facebook group to plan next steps, the movement announce itself as a movement at a conference that gathered over 1000 activists, political forces, and general supporters on June 28, 2008. April 6 and the Mahalla strike became the the point of departure for this research to analyze the role of social media in the trajectory of this emerging youth movement.

The increased use of forums, blogs, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter  in organizing massive non-violent demonstrations in different parts of the world has ignited the interest among academics and activists about the role of social media in different collective action efforts. From protests in Iran and Moldova in 2009, the revolutions in the Middle East, the Indignados in Europe, the Occupy Movement in the US, to the more recent Yo Soy 132 (I’m the 132nd)  movement in Mexico, young people are creatively leading in the use of  different social media spaces to mobilize and coordinate street presence, build narratives of resistance, forge international solidarity among like-minded movements in other parts of the world, and to create new forms of political participation and civic engagement. This research contributes to the efforts of many academics and activists working in this space of inquiry.

We hope this research contributes to the ongoing conversation on social media and youth collective action in two important ways:

  1. Maps the trajectory of the movement identifying six fluid phases from its inception as a Facebook group to the moment when it becomes one of the main mobilizing forces behind the protests that crystallized and converged in the streets of Egypt during the first months of 2011. This movement trajectory has been mapped by contrasting three complementary dimensions: a) the sociopolitical contexts (national and international) that this collective have faced; b) the movement goals and mobilizing strategies they have defined and implemented during different events and periods of time; and c) the movement interactions with different institutions, organizations and networks.
  2.  Identifies the roles of social media in the trajectory of the April 6  Youth Movement primarily through the lens of its Facebook page and group in Arabic and English. However, these roles are placed in the context of something similar of what Bonnie Nardi calls an information ecology which, in this case, includes two influential bloggers, three Egyptian newspapers, Al Jazeera, and the New York Times.

This is the first of a series of blog posts which will share the emerging findings as the analysis of the data collected through this diversity of sources progresses. The multiplicity of narratives in the sources represented in the data will help us portray a more nuanced landscape not only on the varieties and variability of uses and roles of social media, but also on the complexity of the socio-technological interactions/assemblages among different institutions, organizations, and individuals that are part of the contemporary political processes of social change.

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