During the weekend of October 29th, 2011 Egyptian blogger and activist Alaa Abd El Fattah was arrested and detained by the Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).
While on an airplane traveling back to Egypt from the United States, Alaa got word that he'd have to go to the SCAF for interrogation. The Cairo daily Al-Masry Al-Youm reported that Alaa Abd El Fattah and fellow activist Bahaa Saber (who was released that day) were summoned as part of the investigation into a protest they had attended in Cairo two weeks prior, which had ended in violence and the deaths of 28 people, most of them Coptic Christians. According to Jillian C. York (Alaa's friend and fellow free-speech activist), someone had uploaded a video of Alaa from October 9, the day of the Maspero massacre, claiming that Alaa had incited violence. As of Nov 1 Alaa was still in prison and his peers and supporters all over the world are campaigning on and offline for his release.
Alaa Abd El Fattah: (@alaa)is an Egyptian blogger, software developer, and political activist. He is known for co-founding (along with his wife Manal) the Egyptian blog aggregator "Manalaa" and "Omraneya", the first Arab blog aggregators that did not restrict inclusion based on the content of the blog. In 2005 his blog won the Special Reporters Without Borders Award in Deutsche Welle's Best of Blogs competition. He has been active in developing Arabic-language versions of important software and platforms. On 7 May 2006, he was arrested during a peaceful protest after he called for an independent judiciary. His arrest, along with that of several other bloggers and activists, spurred solidarity protests by others around the world, some of whom created the blog "Free Alaa" devoted to calling for his release from jail. Alaa was released on 20 June 2006, after spending 45 days in jail. His wife Manal was quoted by the The Independent as saying: "There's no going back now, we'll definitely be continuing our activities."
SCAF: The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces consists of a body of 20 senior officers in the Egyptian military. As a consequence of the Egyptian Revolution of 2011, the Council was handed the power to govern Egypt by its departing President Hosni Mubarak on February 11, 2011. Unlike Libya, where the removal of the brutal Gaddafi regime is complete, Egypt has so far managed only to get rid of the Mubaraks and a few around them. The regime itself, with the army and the security apparatus at the centre, remains largely intact. And no more so than in the shape of the SCAF whose members were handpicked by Mubarak and whose chief, Field Marshal Tantawi, is now de facto head of state.
Tools and Tactics
Bahaa Saber, Alaas peer who was arrested with him, was released the same day. Upon leaving the prison he immediatly started chanting and weeping for his friends release.
As word began to spread among his friends that he'd been arrested bloggers began to publish the story:
Free Alaa. Again by Jillian C York (10/30/11)
Egypt: Blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah Detained for 15 Days Amira al Hussaini (10/30/11)
Free Alaa. Again. by Xeni Jardin (10/31/11)
Word began to get out about Alaa's arrest and the hashtag #FreeAlaa began to flood the internet from Egypt and abroad:
The news and hashtag began to spread and trend on Twitter and blogs and a small group of supporters in Egypt staged a demonstration outside of the prision:
Later on November 1 thousands gathered Thousands gathered on Monday in downtown Cairo's Talaat Harb Square demanding the release of Alaa:
The advocacy group AccessNow created a petition for President Obama and the United States Congress which it circulated widely online calling for them to call on SCAF to end emergency law and stop the military trial of civiilans including Alaa Abd El Fattah.
Banners and Memes
Activists began to create banners and memes that could be shared on behalf of the campaign to #freelaaa
Supporters also flooded Alaa's Facebook page with updates about the campaign, supportive words and stories about their friend, and calls for more and more people to advocate on his (and the others facing military tribunals) behalf.
Participants in the #FreeAlaa march uploaded and shared videos of the non violent demonstration
UPDATE: Alaa was freed on December 25, 2011 and the hashtag #AlaaisFree began trending worldwide.
This was an inspiring example of an effective coordinated online/offline advocacy campaign. Alaa's peers and supporters did an exemplary job of utilizing all of the tools in their toolbox:
- Non violent offline campagin
- Petition to world leaders
- Twitter hashtag and banner campagin
- Facebook campaign
- Blog campaign
- Flickr slide shows of banners and offline protests
- YouTube videos of protests and past speeches etc. of Alaa
We encourage all aspiring human rights campaingners to carefully examine what the #FreeAlaa supporters have done here and mimic this for their own purposes.
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