(November 2013 – February 2015)

The social movements of the Arab Spring brought protesters onto the streets in several countries in and beyond the Middle East, leading to unprecedented political transitions and changes. Traditionally, the international development community, including USAID, has focused on supporting formal civil society actors, yet the success of a social movement also depends on informal actors. Under this grant, a research team led by the University of California, San Diego conducted a mixed-methods case study to explore the informal networks, systems, and leadership that characterized the social movements of the Arab Spring.

University of California, San Diego

Grant Title: Online and Offline Activism in Egypt and Bahrain
Grant Period: July 2014 – February 2015
Principal Investigators:

The UCSD team examined the online and offline activity of 30 activists and six formal and informal organizations and identity groups, three in Bahrain and three in Egypt, that were engaged in the 2011 protests. Key findings include:

  • Offline community organizing techniques—spreading information via direct face-to-face contact, text messages, or phone calls and sharing resources and determining strategy in the offices of registered NGOs—drove mobilization and information dissemination once the protests were underway. Once the protests started, activists used Twitter primarily via mobile devices, suggesting that Twitter provided documentation of protest events, if not a forum for mobilization and organization.
  • Activists used Twitter as a foil for authorities attempting to repress protest activity—posting on Twitter where activity would occur and then coordinating via phone calls, text messages, and face-to-face communication to move the activity to another location.
  • Activists who used Twitter during the 2011 protest period had low levels of online interaction with protesters who were also on Twitter, and activists’ efforts to coordinate protest communication around common hashtags gained little local traction. Activists had substantial online interaction with international Twitter networks, suggesting that their main audience was international. However, the Twitter use during the protests did grow a local online community: the density of activists’ local online networks increased significantly in both Bahrain and Egypt after the 2011 protest periods.

Research Report: Online and Offline Activism in Egypt and Bahrain