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5 March 2011
This article is part of the series Arab Spring.
| 1 | 2 |
The Western influence on the Arab Spring - 2
By Daan de Wit
Translated by Ben Kearney

Revolutions - be they spontaneous or not - are more appealing than wars. They cost less in terms of blood and money. This explains the great interest taken by the West in the development of programs designed to bring about revolutions. These programs make use of a template, a pattern. This can be seen in the color revolutions in Eastern Europe and the Green Revolution in Iran. Now we have the Arab wave, and again the same elements are back.

This is part 2 of The Western influence on the Arab Spring. Read part 1.

Revolutie6April [jpg]The group of young Egyptian activists emanating from the strike action, and known therefore as the April 6 Youth Movement, choose a logo modeled after the logo of Otpor. And a few of the April 6 members travel to Serbia to meet the people behind Otpor. The New York Times quotes another possible influence, namely The Academy of Change. One of the goals of the organization: 'To reshape the minds and enable them to manage the change.' The academy is described as 'sort of like Karl Marx, and we are like Lenin, said Basem Fathy, another organizer who sometimes works with the April 6 Youth Movement and is also the project director at the Egyptian Democratic Academy, which receives grants from the United States and focuses on human rights and election-monitoring. During the protesters’ occupation of Tahrir Square, he said, he used his connections to raise about $5,100 from Egyptian businessmen to buy blankets and tents.' The Academy of Change was founded in London and is based in Qatar.

RevolutieOtpor [jpg]

Crucial step: Facebook

Someone who often teams up with Ahmed Maher is Wael Ghonim, a central figure in the April 6 movement who works as a marketing executive for Google: 'I worked in marketing, and I knew that if you build a brand you can get people to trust the brand.' He is the man who took the crucial step of setting up the Facebook group We Are All Khalid Said. 'Prior to the murder of Khaled Said, there were blogs and YouTube videos that existed about police torture, but there wasn’t a strong community around them,' says Jillian C. York, the project coordinator for the OpenNet Initiative of the Berkman Center for the Internet and Society at Harvard University. 'This case changed that.'

Ghonim's Facebook page became a huge success: 473,000 people used the site to organize. Ghonim is part of the team surrounding Nobel Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei, the former chairman of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the founder of the National Association for Change, the darling of the West and the favorite candidate for the transitional post-Mubarak phase. Ghonim 'repeatedly hammered home a simple message: “This is your country; a government official is your employee who gets his salary from your tax money, and you have your rights.” He took special aim at the distortions of the official media, because when the people “distrust the media then you know you are not going to lose them”,' writes The New York Times.

James Bond camp
One week before the protests against Mubarak broke out, organizers from the Academy of Change arrived in Cairo. They came to train the unorganized group of demonstrators. Increasingly they began making use of advice from hands-on experts from Tunisia and Serbia. During this type of training the advice offered can be very specific: how to upload information anonymously and at the same time permanently erase the original files. In 2006 the leaders of Otpor held a workshop in Dubai that was described by one of the participants as 'a James Bond camp for revolutionaries'.

Obama: trend moving in Iran's direction
How spontaneous was the current wave of revolutions? It's possible that rebellion was already in the air for some time. 'These unfolding transformations have been less of a surprise for us at al-Jazeera.' But then the question remains as to whether it was a matter of a totally spontaneous event or of an external guiding hand. A guiding hand that accepts the fact that their current ally is finished, and so wants to exercise influence on the process of transformation, to be able to influence the outcome in this manner. A document leaked by WikiLeaks proves the U.S. support for the April 6 Youth Movement. A movement which, according to U.S. President Obama, is part of a trend that 'could spread to other authoritarian governments in the region, including in Iran.' 
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