On April 6, 2008, a small group of liberal Egyptian activists used Facebook to organize a major protest against the Mubarak regime. Although the protest itself wasn’t particularly successful – the regime shut down Tahrir Square and brilliantly outmaneuvered the activists to prevent a second protest scheduled for May 4 – the dissidents’ use of new media for challenging Egyptian authoritarianism won them international acclaim. This clearly rattled the regime, which later instituted new measures for monitoring Internet usage.
Well, Monday marks a year since this somewhat fateful rally and, naturally, the “April 6th” group is planning a follow-up. Yet this year’s protest seems to be losing focus. On one hand, its Facebook group – which includes over 74,000 members – calls for some fairly basic reforms, including a minimum wage of 1200 Egyptian pounds ($212) per month; tying prices to salaries; the election of a new assembly for drafting a constitution that guarantees political and union rights; and presidential term limits.
On the other hand, the April 6th movement has also turned its attention to matters that have nothing to do with fighting authoritarianism. In this vein, its top demands now include ending Egypt’s sale of gas to Israel – something that wouldn’t ordinarily raise any red flags, since plenty of Egyptians who aren’t otherwise anti-Israel oppose the gas sales on the grounds that Israel receives a hefty discount. However, a prominent Egyptian blogger has informed me that Nasserists have become increasingly involved with the April 6th group, pushing an anti-Israel message to the forefront of Monday’s rally. Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood – which doesn’t typically align with Nasserists – has joined this effort: after not participating in last year’s rally, it has signed on as a major supporter and released a very telling statement:
The right to strike, to protest peacefully, and to show anger is one of the basic rights of citizens, and it is a constitutional and legal right that cannot be voided. The Egyptian youth are the hope of this nation for reforming the present and building a bright future for themselves and for us, to achieve national security and defend all of the umma‘s [Islamic world’s] key issues, at the heart of which is Palestine.
All of this is to say that the April 6th movement may be headed in the direction of its liberal, anti-Mubarak predecessors: from properly demanding democratic rights; to being infiltrated by Palestine-first activists; to being relegated to the depths of obscurity.