Conclusions and findings from collective actor studies

Once our collective actor profiles had been selected and documented, we began a process of analysis to consider the factors shaping these youth initiatives on gender-based violence in post-Mubarak Egypt, and the factors influencing their success or failure.

Factors shaping the formation of collective actors

  1. A ‘trigger’ event. The overwhelming majority of the new initiatives were formed in a direct response to an impending threat associated with a particular political moment.
  2. The capacity to respond. Leaders/elites saw and seized the opportunity/moment to respond to the ‘trigger’.
  3. Men’s involvement in the initiatives. Men were driven by their personal empathy with the problem of sexual harassment. In some cases men played a pioneering role as founders, and all eleven initiatives had a high level of men’s participation.
  4. Empirical characteristics of the ‘founders’. While most initiatives were keen to stress their horizontal structure, by and large the leaders were elites with socio-economic and class privilege. The majority of leaders were male. All were predominantly youth-led.
  5. Empirical characteristics of the members. All members were volunteers, with the majority aged 18-30 and from the upper or middle class. Around one third were male.
  6. Prior networks. Pre-existing networks proved to be critically important for the formation of these coalitions.

Factors influencing the relative success of these initiatives

  1. The nature and scope of the issue. The initiatives that had the most success in achieving their objectives were the ones that were targeted in their interventions.
  2. Formal institutional context. The change of leadership from Mubarak to Morsi did not lead to a change of regime, but the Egyptian revolution of 2011 unleashed citizens’ energies in expressing their voices and being proactive in claiming their rights. It provided them with spaces and platforms for action.
  3. Informal institutional context. The informal nature of the collectives worked to their advantage, keeping the structures fluid, and allowing them to avoid government intervention. But being informal also means that they cannot take advantage of some of benefits such as applying for funds.
  4. The nature and power of the ‘opposition’. The actors, institutions and networks through which opposition is exercised are extremely opaque. This lack of clarity over who the opponents really are has major implications on the success of these initiatives in addressing the underlying power dynamics behind sexual harassment on the streets.
  5. Vision and goals. There was a common vision and an unqualified rejection of harassment against women across all of the initiatives, but there were ideological differences between initiatives and whether they saw sexual harassment as socially or politically motivated.
  6. Networks. The role of pre-existing networks is key to the success of these initiatives. They have self-selected the core groups and rely on their repertoire of friends, contacts and acquaintances to mobilise support and establish contacts with the media and various political parties and movements.
  7. Framing. Framing of messages appropriately has helped these initiatives make great strides in reaching out to ordinary citizens, where women’s coalitions during Mubarak’s era had failed.
  8. Men’s involvement in the activities. The leadership and involvement of men in these initiatives has served to de-ghettoize sexual harassment and increase numbers and outreach. It has contributed to the framing of issues in a way that speaks to wider society and has promoted positive male role models.
  9. Strategies pursued. The street strategies used have enabled the collective actors to gain credibility and visibility. These included security patrols and rescue operations, the use of graffiti, art, song, and catchy slogans, the use of human chains, male peer-to peer dialogues, media outreach and the use of electronic media to disseminate news and recruit new members.
  10. Learning and adaptation. There is no evidence to suggest that there is collective thinking between different actors, nor substantial experience sharing. However, many of these initiatives’ leaders and members have expressed the need for more opportunities for learning and networking with other initiatives.
  11. Sustainability of the work. One of the weaknesses in the current initiatives is that some are at heart time bound campaigns on very specific issues. They need to reinvent themselves and set new goals if they were to survive as actors. Most initiatives were self funded and rely on volunteers, some may discontinue as a consequence of insufficient resources.