Horizontalism on the Nile: what does it mean to say that the Egyptian uprising of 2011 was leaderless/or leaderful? And does it matter?


London School of Economics

This paper probes the extent to which the revolutionary process, unleashed on 25 January 2011, has proposed a new model for the organization of power in Egypt. On the one hand, the Mubarak regime depended heavily on structures of personalized power. On the other, Egypt’s uprising was not led by a “modern prince”, in the form of a Khomeini or a Chavez, whereby an organized and vanguardist leadership, mobilizes the masses with a strongly-articulated ideology. Instead, the revolutionary process has pointed to a model of power nationally and locally that is more decentralized and “horizontalist” (Sitrin). The rejection of the cult of the leader, the networked form of organizing, the use of social media, the presence of satellite and private media, the energies of the Muslim Brotherhood youth, the emphasis on deliberation not representation, the eschewal of doctrinalism, the appearance of numerous new and newly-politicized groups, from football fans (the ultras) to Salafi preachers, the independent trade union movement, wild-cat strikes and sit ins by industrial workers and civil servants, self-management in the workplace, popular committees in the neighborhoods, movements in universities and schools all point towards the construction of authority and power relations on new bases in Egypt. At the centre, relations of power are more polyarchic than before, and in society at large, bosses are rooted from their positions as the process of tathir continues, and new forms of organization and authority emerge. This paper aims to assess how important decentralized and horizontalist forms of power and authority have become.