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Mubarak’s Survival Strategy and Looting as Counter-Insurgency

Mubarak's strategy for combating the open source protest is now becoming clear. It's to create a vacuum.

by John Robb On January 30, 2011

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Mubarak’s strategy for combating the open source protest is now becoming clear.  It’s to create a vacuum.  De-escalate and out-wit the protest.

Here it is with more detail:

  • De-escalate.  No confrontation in the streets.  Withdraw police from the streets.  Change the government (fire everyone) and appoint new people.
  • Misdirect. Re-focus on looting (property crime). Initiate looting through the use of security forces in civilian garb (reports of this).  Make the people feel unsafe/scared.  Increase levels of chaos.  Open the doors of the prisons (reports of this).  Make it seem like the entire country is burning/falling apart.
  • Militarize.  Bring in the military to control key intersections and protect key buildings.  Increasingly, focus the military on stoping property crime and violence.  Realign government to increase ties to military.
  • Wait.  The protests will continue.  However, with the fear of violence removed and people unable to take over key buildings, Mubarak and his cronies remain.  The protests eventually diminish.
  • Lock Down.  The police return, with military backing.  The secret police begin to ratchet up operations to re-establish a fear of the government.

There have been a growing number of reports of looters/thugs conducting smash and grabs across Cairo.  Interestingly, there’s also a growing number of reports that when these thugs are caught, they have police/interior ministry identification on them.  If this is so, the reasons for it are:

  1. It tars the insurgency as a group of criminals and thugs.
  2. It provides a reason for a reluctant army to get involved and enact a curfew.
  3. It forces a percentage of the movement to stay at home (to guard the neighborhood).

This above has the potential to set the stage for a harsh response domestically.  It could also help provide cover to the regime globally (hitting the Egyptian Museum was smart in this respect, given how many people around the world care much more for the artifacts there than the freedom of 80 m Egyptians).

The question is: will it work?  A decade ago, certainly.  Today?  No way.  Too much backchannel.

Open source insurgencies, revolts, etc. operate on very simple premise:

They negate, block, stop, halt, reverse, etc. the status quo.

A dictator. A policy. An occupation. Etc.

They don’t build.  They don’t construct.  They don’t transition.  They don’t rule.  They don’t make people in the establishment feel good/safe/etc.  NOTE:  it’s important to note, as we saw with the people that defended Cairo’s historic museum from looting/fire, they can protect.

  • The open source insurgency is based on a very simple goal (not an ideology or complex agenda).  In Egypt’s case: the removal a corrupt dictator.
  • Successful efforts (Tunisia’s success and the first Facebook protest in Cairo) move this goal from a hope to a plausible promise — something that can be achieved.
  • A plausible promise is something that everyone can get behind regardless of ideology, religion, agendas, etc.
  • The open source insurgency runs until the plausible promise is achieved.  Mubarak’s offer to dissolve the government wasn’t enough.  He needs to go.
  • Once Mubarak goes, the open source movement will evaporate — after that, divergent motivations repeatedly forkthe movement.

Further, as we have seen in Egypt, the ability of the open source insurgency to withstand/shrug off counter-attacks grows as it moves closer to its goal.  Even though hundreds have been killed in Egypt by the police (on 29 January, 2010), it hasn’t shaken the movement at all.

Online connectivity is an early enabler of open source insurgencies.  Once they are formed, online connectivity is not a requirement for their continued operation over the short term.  In Egypt’s case, shutting down the Internet didn’t work (it only made people more upset).

These posts were originally written for John Robb’s blog

Photo Credits: Flickr CC M. Soli, modenadude and freestylee

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