It seems that the reasons why we thought a revolution impossible were wrong, our identification of the agents of change was misguided and our understanding of how collective mobilisation happens was too narrow. We need new ways to capture what is happening on the ground through the eyes of these countries’ people.
Failing to make sense of the protests: Egypt has witnessed a number of protests in the past five years. Demonstrators clearly showed that they were defying the restrictions of political activism and breaking through the fear barrier. We missed these hints of public dissent because these forms of collective action did not fit our checklist of what constitutes the “right kind” of citizen mobilisation that would shake an authoritarian regime.
The constant flare-up of protests, sit-ins, demonstrations and encroachments on public space all led by citizens, whether workers in their thousands or young Egyptian Christian youth more recently, were often dismissed as too small, inconsequential or too narrow in their demands to be of significance for regime change. However, to assume that the masses would not rise shows how dismissive we have been of the power of unruly politics.