The Otpor connection in Egypt
January 31, 2011 11 Comments
When I was following some tweets on Egypt, I was struck when I came across the symbol of Otpor. Subsequently I noticed that a number of protesters also using the Otpor symbol. The obvious question is whether this use of symbols was coincidental and some movements or protesters in Egypt were just inspired by Otpor or whether there are stronger links. A number of Serbian news sources of varying quality (Alo, Vesti Online) have now published articles suggesting that former Otpor activists have been training some opposition groups, including interviews with anonymous former Otpor members and the Serbian embassy. The main group in question seems to be April 6, launched first as a facebook group. The group has currently over 87,000 members and has been active for nearly three years already. According to recently released wikileaks documents, the group appears to have enjoyed some support from the US government, but the assessment of the US state department interloctutor in late 2008 is telling: The 6 April representative “offered no roadmap of concrete steps toward April 6′s highly unrealistic goal of replacing the current regime with a parliamentary democracy prior to the 2011 presidential elections. Most opposition parties and independent NGOs work toward achieving tangible, incremental reform within the current political context, even if they may be pessimistic about their chances of success. xxx wholesale rejection of such an approach places him outside this mainstream of opposition politicians and activists.” It seems like recent events have shown that the assessment of the group was more astute than the US state department.
Clearly, the main inspiration for the protests came from Tunisia, not Serbia, but the Otpor connection is telling for two reasons: First, it demonstrates that pro-democracy movements are linked across continents and lessons are learned. Second, the wikileaks cable shows that the US state department was in communication with opposition to the Mubarak regime already in 2008. It thus seems simplistic to accuse the government of just propping up Mubarak without listening to alternatives. The Otpor connection also suggests that there was at least some level of financial support for opposition groups from the US, even if it wasn’t the administration directly.