Posted by David Nassar on October 18, 2011 in News Clips
Earlier today I participated In a small round table of journalists and bloggers at the Arab American Institute with Ahmed Maher, co founder of the April. 6 movement. Maher is an impressive activist. If you have not watched the PBS Frontline episode about the April 6 movement, check it out here. I first encountered Maher in 2008 when I was the executive director of Walmart Watch and April 6 was calling for a national strike in support of textile workers in the Delta. The factory that was targeted produced product for Walmart, so I made sure that my organization did what we could to raise awareness about the issue. I also was familiar with him through my work for the Alliance for Youth Movements, although the now infamous interaction between April 6 and AYM in New York City occurred before my involvement with that organization. My current interest lies in how they plan to use new media in the future to sustain the movement both within Egypt and outside.
Digital media has played a widely recognized role in the Egyptian revolution. As I’ve written before, it was not a Twitter revolution but it would not have been a revolution without Twitter. So we know now clearly from that experience as well as from things like Occupy Wall Street, not to mention the Obama campaign, that digital media can spark a movement. The question that needs an answer though is if digital media can sustain a movement as it transitions from a force for electoral or revolutionary change to a process of supporting and/or challenging the process of governance. In the United States, the difficulty that Organizing for America has had in mobilizing Obama’s campaign list to support his policy initiatives is a perfect example of the challenge.
So I was interested to hear Ahmed say that April 6 is planning to monitor the next elections and to monitor the new parliament once it is in place. Digital tools have clearly been useful in election monitoring around the world but in different ways. The use of Ushahidi is often highlighted as a shining example of the new era of election monitoring but even the best of those examples have been more citizen reporting than an organized monitoring process. An alternative model is Project Swift Count from Nigeria, where trained and organized monitors utilized mobile technology to contribute comprehensive reports that ultimately produced statistically accurate vote totals that held the Nigerian government accountable.
Even more difficult though is what comes after elections. One of the best examples of using new media to do that comes from Serbia. Since Ahmed joked several times during his talk about the way the SCAF has pointed to the April 6 connections to Serbia, I’m sure that he is familiar with the Istinomer efforts. The Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections is also making some efforts to monitor legislation.
Even monitoring legislation though is easier than mobilizing people to affect the relatively dull process of making law. The overarching challenge is that people have lives and the process of making legislation never ends, so sustaining a watchful eye is just difficult. The recently new efforts of change.org present some interesting opportunities but many of the successes there have been around relatively hot button issues rather than the mundane subjects. Those subjects sometimes have a bigger impact on day to day life.