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Social media and protest in Egypt and England

Until last night it was, if not unthinkable, unsayable to draw parallels between what is happening in Egypt, with events in England. During a Tonight programme focusing on Egypt, but considering the history of revolution, Jeremy Paxman said it was perhaps “inappropriate” to bring in the protests against cuts in this country.

Yet they did, in a report by Paul Mason. A common factor, he suggested, was young people with a university education and facing unemployment. They were reacting to a broken pledge that if they became well educated they would be better off than their parents. (It seems seems this segment, or something like it, was originally planned for last Friday. Look at Paul Mason’s blog for more on this.)

The British link has to be seen in context of the whole programme discussing Egypt and the record of revolutions. It included historians Simon Sebag-Montefiore and Simon Schama. You can watch it on the BBC iPlayer for some time.

While the pattern of revolution may not change much, one thing is different now. That is the horizontal nature of protest, loose coalitions of people without obvious leaders.

These two factors: youth alienated over education and jobs, and horizontal organisation through social media has been clearly seen in the tuition fees protests in England.

The library protests, while polite and peaceful, show unmistakable signs of horizontal organisation through social media with the use of email, twitter (#savelibraries), Facebook and blogs.  No obvious leaders have emerged either nationally or locally here in Suffolk, but there is cohesion and common purpose.

British governments have long been terrified of losing control of the streets. They have adopted gradual change to avoid revolution, probably since the Civl War, three-and-a-half centuries ago.

There was no domino-effect here from the French Revolution, Chartism in the 19th century did not turn into a revolution, nor did the General Strike in 1926. Margaret Thatcher fell after poll tax riots 20 years ago. John Major then replaced poll tax with council tax.

In the 19th century Robert Peel introduced the Metropolitan Police with control of the streets of the capital as one of the principal reasons. He also adopted gradualism when he switched from opposition to Catholic emancipation to getting it through parliament when he realised the old policy was untenable.

No one is seriously predicting a revolution in England except for some Marxist and Trotskyist survivors from another age. Yet, I feel sure that in Downing Street developments are being watched carefully and a Plan B is being prepared whether or not they will admit it. Gradualism (that means concessions) may yet rule if protests become loud enough.

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  1. mimpromptu says

    Well, the parallels were drawn because the BBC and Newsnight in partcular are being manipulated precisely by ‘some Marxist and Trotskyist survivors from another age’, as you say. I’m not entirely sure whether they include any of the journalists currently working for the organisation which seems to be still under the influence of the previous, fallen and discredited’, elements in the previous government.