Organized groups with cross class networks and institutional links to different social constituencies have often been behind revolutionary mobilizations. The Egyptian case in 2011 conveys a different dynamic. Small youth groups played leading roles in organizing and strategizing for the mass protests attracting large numbers of participants? How was that possible? And why were middle-class employees, the white-collar and professional sectors, overrepresented in the mobilizations? Finally, how could we understand the rise of these movements at this juncture. I argue that the Egyptian mass protests could be understood by adopting a middle ground approach between organization and spontaneity. There are cases when prior militancy, demands for union democracy, and political links with the democracy movement prepared middle-class employees to join in larger numbers. In other cases, participation was spontaneous resulting from growing grievances against the state. I also show that political realignments in the early 2000s created openings that led to both a rise in labor unrest and invigorated the democracy movement - eventually culminating in the 2011 mass mobilizations.
Nada Matta is an assistant professor in the Departments of Global Studies and Modern Languages and Sociology. Her research interests are in political economy, social movements and gender studies; and she primarily investigate questions of structural inequality and social change in the Middle East. Nada is the co-author of “the Second Intifada: A dual Strategy Arena” published in the European Journal of Sociology, and is writing a book about the Egyptian Revolution of 2011.