Current Institutional Affiliation
Assistant Professor, Global Studies and Modern Languages and Sociology, Drexel University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2012
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Sociology, New York University (NYU)
Youth Workers and the Egyptian Uprising

Although the Egyptian working-class movement has been the most mobilized group in Egypt, staging around 4000 protests involving millions of workers during the last decade alone, it didn’t initiate or lead the Egyptian uprising of 2011. In fact, it was the youth movement that did both, calling for the Day of Anger protest on 25 January, leading the subsequent revolt from Tahrir Square [liberation, in Arabic], and formulating its main political demands. How can one explain this seeming anomaly? The events of the Egyptian uprising, I argue, raise a puzzle for social movement literature. While most the research of social movements suggests that those with the largest pre-existing networks and most resourced organizations are the most likely to lead protests, this wasn’t what transpired in Egypt. The opposite actually happened. The groups that hadn’t earlier demonstrated their ability to mobilize large numbers of people, and were loosely organized online networks, took a leading role in the uprising. Simultaneously, the historically more militant workers, with strong organizational structures and pre-existing networks, participated as striking workers only towards the end of the 18-day mobilization. My main objective is to explain the disjuncture between earlier organization and actual participation in the uprising. My project builds on preliminary research that I conducted in Egypt since 2009. On my last visit in the summer of 2010, I spent 7 weeks in Mahalla (a working-class city renowned for its labor militancy) interviewing textile workers about the 2006-2009 Mahalla strikes that drew the attention of all Egyptians. These may well be regarded as the first seed of the Egyptian uprising. Only by conducting further in-depth interviews with both youth and labor activists will I be able to understand the conditions under which the youth activists were able to organize such a massive protest and sustain an organized movement in Tahrir square, and how workers conceive of th