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Egypt's resistance takes on the corporate sector

More than 50,000 people follow Bolsen's posts on using targeted attacks against multinationals and corporations
Shahid Bolsen has been actively promoting his ideas via social media since 2013 (Facebook)

Four years since the peaceful 2011 protesters won out in Tahrir Square, resistance among the youth of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s Egypt is taking a radical turn, specifically against the corporate sector.

Since 25 January this year, reports show a spike in attacks and acts of sabotage against foreign investment companies and multinationals in Egypt.

Among other incidents, a bomb was reportedly defused in Cairo’s biggest City Stars shopping mall, a group of masked men torched the Emirates NBD Bank in Giza on 2 February, and another group of unidentified men burned down a Mobinil telecommunications branch in Helwan, a southern Cairo suburb, on Wednesday.

The Popular Resistance Movement in Giza claimed responsibility for the attack on the Emirati bank in a video released a day after the incident via a Facebook page called Under the Ashes. The page publishes coverage of attacks and sabotage targeted against the state.

The group, which has become increasingly well-known over the past few months, regularly claims responsibility via its Facebook page for attacks against police officers, which they claim conspired with the military against the revolutionaries.  

In light of these developments, the ideas of a man named Shahid Bolsen have gained popularity among the Egyptian youth. Through his Facebook page of more than 50,000 followers, Bolsen calls for action against a neoliberal system and business elite in Egypt which support the military government. 

He refers to the success of Ecuador's President Rafael Correa in implementing an economic policy that is conducive to protecting national interests and says that Egypt should do the same by "regulating corporate activities, nationalising its natural resources and using progressive taxation policies" instead of following the "relatively new neoliberal economic theory".

Previously a practising Catholic, Bolsen, an American convert to Islam who now lives in Istanbul, believes “the coup in Egypt was more or less a business decision by the military in Egypt”. He regularly calls on Egyptian revolutionaries via social media “to disrupt the efficiency of operation and profitability of foreign investors and multinationals”.

While Bolsen says that he “does not advocate violence or bloodshed and is trying to evade a situation like Syria,” he believes a message needs to be articulated to investors supporting the Sisi government that their strategy is not profitable.

"It is crucial that any disruption of a company must be accompanied by a clear articulated message to the management...explaining exactly why it was that they can withdraw their support for the coup, and use their influence against, instead of for, injustice and oppression," Bolsen said in a Facebook post on Monday. 

Although Bolsen has communicated his ideas since October 2013 - when he was released from a UAE prison after being charged with manslaughter without access to a lawyer - his posts, he says, only gained significant traction on the eve of an Egyptian court verdict to release ousted president Hosni Mubarak from jail after clearing him of his last convictions on 13 January.  

Bolsen believes that the reason for his social media following is due to the failure of peaceful protests – which he describes as “essentially volunteering to participate in police crowd control training exercises” -  to achieve any tangible results in terms of overturning the military takeover of July 2013.

Together with a sharpening crackdown on dissent by the Sisi government, the removal of hierarchies among opposition groups - due to the absence of leaders now in jail or exile - has allowed activists to explore new tactics and strategies, he told MEE.

His followers, which span across Islamist, secular and leftist groups, have become increasingly disillusioned by peaceful forms of resistance to the Sisi government. 

While there is no way to verify a link between the rise of targeted incidents and Bolsen’s communications on social media, 30-year-old Mohamed, an Egyptian engineer who does not affiliate himself with any organised resistance group, notes that “up until Bolsen's posts, no one in Egypt targeted corporations as a means to fighting Sisi,” claiming that there is a correlation between the two. 

Mohamed draws a connection between Bolsen’s thoughts and those of John Perkins, author of Confessions of an Economic Hitman. He supports Bolsen’s idea that the capitalist system is preying on Egypt as a failed state, but he does not think that targeted attacks against the corporate sector can resolve the situation.

“The attacks will drive out investors and multinationals completely, not change their loyalty towards the revolutionaries,” Mohamed told MEE.

Karim, 23, who started following Bolsen’s Facebook page two months ago, says that he “presents practical steps and a clear and logical vision” to resisting the military government, while also providing an alternative to an either-or peaceful means versus violence dilemma.

“His ideas are effective, but still non-violent,” Karim told MEE, explaining that while many of the young revolutionaries have become frustrated with the ineffectiveness of peaceful protest, violence has largely been rejected for fear of escalation.

Ahmed, 32, who describes himself as a former anarchist and leftist, says that Bolsen’s ideas were already present among a large group of Egyptian anarchists and were being implemented on a small scale, even before the 2011 uprisings.

He says support for Bolsen’s philosophy of targeted attacks against corporations, as well al-Qaeda style violence against individuals in the state, are likely to increase over the coming period.

While Sisi has vowed to hold Egypt’s upcoming investment conference in Sharm al-Sheikh as scheduled in March, an increase in attacks against corporate targets could potentially risk the success of the summit.

An Egyptian security source confirmed on Tuesday that a note attached to two defused bombs in Cairo International Airport said: “Wait for us during the March conference,” while a Salafist, Istanbul-based opposition TV channel called Rabaa, broadcast a warning to all foreign companies in Egypt to retract their projects in the country by 28 February.

Video showing masked men torching Emirati Bank in Giza, Cairo on 2 February (Youtube)

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