When should organizations engage transnational networks?

This week’s readings provided an opportunity to reflect on non-western social movement mobilizations within the context of the new era of digital transnational activism. Markus Schulz’s paper on the Zapatista mobilization against NAFTA in the mid-1990s has far more similarities to the 2011 Egyptian Dignity uprisings than traditional American and European literature. Both the guerrilla Zapatista fighters in Chiapas, Mexico and the Egyptian Ultras (youth football fans with militant experience fighting the police) are not traditional social movement organizations (SMOs) in the conventional sense. Instead they both formed within their regional context and mobilized against the state as a component of a larger social movement when the interest of their organization were threatened. The Zapatistas and Egyptian Ultras, to a certain extent are open to using physical force to, “strengthen civil society vis-à-vis the state” (1998). While the Ultras are not guerilla fighters like the Zapatistas, their militant-like organization against the police cannot be denied.

Both groups have used “weak ties” with other transnational organizations to form temporary alliances to reach their common goals. While the transnational network of the Egyptian leftist Ultras had been established for over a decade, they failed to embrace the revolution as a part of their larger frame and therefore did not activate members outside of Egypt. Instead, members acted individually within their local networks to support the revolutionary movement at the neighborhood level. As a result, several Egyptian Ultra members have died fighting for the cause but the group continues to experience strong state oppression. The Zapatistas however, embraced the potential of forming new partnerships through engaging the support of foreign activist networks. Through digital activism, the group succeeded in activating members of ‘global civil society’ to bring awareness on the Zapatista struggle.

With this in mind, we can now question whether the Egyptian Ultras’ decision to not formally support the revolution an attempt to stay true to their original framing as a football fan club or the shortsightedness of their horizontal organization which was unable to foresee their potential capacity in impacting the politics of their state? In the era of transnational activism it is essential to realize the choice movements have in activating and including foreign networks.

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