By Peter Apps
LONDON – From the streets of Cairo and Madrid to online forums and social media sites, “leaderless” protests are on the rise. But the very qualities that led to their short-term success may condemn them to failure in the long run.
Activists in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere say the lack of top-down management has been an important element in their recent success in rallying crowds disillusioned with the ruling establishment, using social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.
Anti-austerity protesters in Europe have used similar tactics to organise mass street protests they hope will put pressure on governments to rethink spending cuts.
It’s not all online. In street demonstrations, sit-ins and meetings in Cairo, Athens, Madrid and London, loosely organised protesters hold public meetings and votes on immediate logistical issues and wider political aims, trying to build agreement and consensus.
“Our revolution did not have a head but it did have a body, a heart and a soul,” Egyptian-British psychiatrist Sally Moore, one of the protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, told a Thomson Reuters Foundation event this month on the “Arab Spring”.
Disparate protest groups around the world say they are learning from each other. While in previous decades leaderless groups struggled to build name-recognition and media coverage, social media has allowed them to put huge crowds on the street at speed.
It is a model that has proved very appealing to youthful protesters angry at the way they believe an older generation – whether the leaders of the Arab world or West’s bankers and politicians – have stolen their future.