On November 22, The Egypt Solidarity Initiative held a protest in solidarity with Egyptian activists who have been thrown in jails for years for violating the recently created protest law. It took place at Cleopatra’s Needle on the Thames.
Here is one of the leaflets that were being handed out to promote the event, which outlines the cause.
This is a video that I produced for the group. For the purposes of this analysis, it shows a few important factors – the number of people, the actions taken, the signs and placards used, and the message of the protesters as given in the interviews:
The group’s aim for this action can be summed up as :
– To put pressure on the Egyptian government to let the activists out and to change/repeal the protest law
– To put pressure on the UK government to pressure the Egyptian government to do the above
– To send a message of solidarity to Egyptian activists who are in jail or who are laying low for fear of being imprisoned.
(in bold are the actors being targeted)
Actions we took:
– Handed out leaflets at universities and Arab cultural events
– Held protest at Cleopatra’s needle, with chanting and placards and taping up the Sphinx’s mouth
– We filmed and photographed the action and spread it on social media and handed it to media outlets
With the group’s goals in mind, it’s worth considering how effective this action was, and what theory of change will make campaigns more effective in future.
When it comes to targeting or pressuring the Egyptian government, especially from abroad, the options are relatively limited. Previous protests have been held at the Egyptian embassy, with the idea that the ambassador will raise the issue with members of the Egyptian government. The group has done this on a number of occasions without success. But perhaps the real hope with a campaign like this is not necessarily to directly influence Egyptian lawmakers, but to indirectly influence them through the media, international activist pressure, and in helping to create a climate that brings this issue onto their agenda.
As Aiden Ricketts writes in the Activist’s handbook (2012) “it is often a mistake for activists to assume the changes can be made from the top down; it is the building of public support which gives your campaign its real force and power in the long term“
The British government could be more directly targeted. The video shows the protesters chanting “David Cameron, Shame on you!”, and a big banner that says “UK govt, stop supporting Egypt’s repressive govt”. The aim of this tactic would be to pressure British MPs into criticising the Egyptian regime, or into lobbying Egypt to change the protest law and release the detainees. But it might be more effective to directly target particular MPs – perhaps ones with a track record of action in the Middle East.
In terms of sending a message to Egyptian activists, this was probably the most effective part of what we did. Through social media channels and close networks with Egyptian activists, we were able to spread images of the action. I know that some of the activists in jail became aware of the action.
Although a much deeper analysis of what can be done to improve the actions for next time, it’s worth providing a brief summary of ideas:
– In terms of targeting specific British MPs, Labour MP Grahame Morris could be a good choice. He is the MP who raised the successful parliamentary vote in favour of recognising Palestine, and chairs the “Labour Friends of Palestine & the Middle East” parliamentary group.
– We put up posters all across Westminster and SOAS universities, but we could probably have done this more efficiently. By going to university societies and other groups who may have been more interested: Arabic language groups, Syria solidarity groups, Islamic societies, Coptic churches.
– The successful element of the protest was probably the sphinx taped pic. The “stunt” tactic is useful for the group to consider as it translates small numbers into big impact. Other possibilities include selling “Free Speech” insurance to people outside the Egyptian consulate, and putting stickers (/blue tac posters) onto the Egyptian tourism posters that are on the underground.
– Coordinate the solidarity actions. We are small in number but there are pockets of Egypt solidarity action taking place in other cities across the world. If we were to unify them and publish all the pics together, it would amplify the message.