Revisiting the Egyptian Uprising of 2011: Exploring the Role of Relational Networks within the Cairo-Based Political Opposition

Revisiting the Egyptian Uprising of 2011, I argue that strong relational networks linking actors in the broader Cairo-based political opposition—a conglomerate of prodemocracy movement organizations—should be understood as a necessary, albeit insufficient, causal condition for the diffusion of protest. These networks fulfilled two essential functions. 1) They were critical in terms of professionally socializing a new generation of activists—many of whom would become early riser participants during the initial protests on January 25, 2011. 2) The networks allowed for critically important coordination of and mobilization for the protests as they cut across boundaries of individual social and protest movement organizations. Based on 55 semi-structured interviews, I trace the genesis of these relational networks during the first decade of the new millennium, showing how a coalition of actors sought to capitalize on a transnational demonstration effect triggered by the Tunisian Revolution. This group—linked by dense relational networks—then functioned as early risers during the initial stages of the uprising and encouraged other segments of Egyptian society to join the protests and to openly challenge a regime that had often been regarded as impenetrable to popular demands for socio-political change from below.

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