Q: Shayfeencom, which means “We Are Watching You” in Arabic, was founded in 2005 to support free speech and democracy in Egypt. Tells us a bit about the organization’s early days. How broad was its membership, what sort of projects and initiatives was the organization involved with, and how successful was its work?
Ahmed Hafez (AH): Shayfeencom began as a movement to end corruption. Its message was clear: although the old regime believed people were blind to its corruption, Egyptians had always been aware of these practices despite their silence. We named the movement “Shayfeencom” to send a message to the regime that we were not blind and could see its corruption.
The movement was launched by three women, Engie El-Haddad, a marketing professional, Bothaina Kamel, a news anchor on Egyptian national television, and Ghada Shahbendar, an academic. At the start, Shayfeencom’s membership was limited, and far less broad than it is today.
The movement began with a campaign to monitor Egypt’s 2005 parliamentary elections. As documented by a Shayfeencom report, there were over 4,000 cases of electoral irregularities throughout the country. Based on these incidents, we filed an official lawsuit with Egypt’s General Prosecutor.
The Prosecutor’s office failed to acknowledge our claim so we turned to the Judge’s Syndicate, an organization providing support to Egypt’s judges and coordinating judicial lobbying efforts. Through the syndicate, we were connected with judges willing to assist us with our claim.
The regime responded by bringing suit against those members of the judiciary supporting Shayfeencom’s legal efforts. The regime also brought libel charges against the movement’s founding members. Although many of the cases were fabricated, several leading judges supporting our movement were imprisoned, including Judge Hisham Bastawisi, Judge Zakaria Abdel Aziz, and Judge Ahmed Mekki. These judges were later released after the 2006 Judges Protest.
In the early days, our most successful work involved sidestepping stated-controlled media and using the internet and social media, particularly YouTube, to report events inside the country, a strategy that has subsequently become very popular in the region.
Q: How did Shayfeencom respond to the early days of the Egyptian revolution?
AH: Since 2008 and after release of the BBC documentary on Shayfeencom, Egypt’s state security curtailed the movement’s activities. However, we soon resurfaced under the name “Egyptians Against Corruption” (EAC) and sued the government to force implementation of the UN Convention Against Corruption, which the Egyptian government had signed in 2003.
EAC worked with the April 6th Movement and the “We Are All Khaled Said” Facebook page to rally for the January 25, 2011 protest.
Following the Revolution, EAC and Shayfeencom merged under the Shayfeencom banner.
Q: How has the organization’s work changed and developed since Mubarak’s ouster?
AH: After the re-establishment of Shayfeencom, our methods changed dramatically. In 2005, we knew using social media would be a revolutionary idea. We believed Shayfeencom’s rebirth should be even stronger and more revolutionary, stretching beyond Egypt to the rest of the Arab world.
We began preparing for the recent Egyptian presidential elections months before it was announced, collecting thousands of volunteers from across Egypt’s 27 governorates. We provided these volunteers with training, and, through word of mouth, our work reached tens of thousands of official and non-official election monitors.
Members of the public took it upon themselves to keep an eye out for electoral irregularities. If a citizen witnessed a violation, he would call our hotline to report it. Reports were also coming in through our Twitter account and Facebook page. Reported violations would immediately appear on our website, as unconfirmed. A few minutes later, official monitors would either confirm or deny the reports. In just two days, we received reports of over 1,000 violations from every corner of Egypt.
At the same time, we have remained true to our roots and have continued to act as a watchdog, anti-corruption movement. Our movement will continue to further its work through the internet, which allows us to more easily document violations while also making our work more effective and accessible and harder for the government to control.
Q: How collaborative is Shayfeencom’s work? Does the group work with other kinds of organizations inside Egypt?
AH: Yes, we collaborate with several organizations, some of which adopt our initiatives and others which use Shayfeencom as a method to report violations. We have previously collaborated with Egypt’s Kifaya movement, which aims to positively influence democratic life in Egypt, the March 9 movement, which advocates for the independence of Egypt’s public universities, and several Egyptian political parties.
Q: Has Shayfeencom’s work broadened to reach other countries in the region?
AH: While I am not fully aware of the places where Shayfeencom has spread, we do know there were plans for creating branches in Lebanon, Jordan, and Yemen. We have had very little contact with these groups, but hope to collaborate with them in the future.
Q: How do you see Shayfeencom’s work developing in the future?
AH: I believe we have started something that will continue beyond our lifetime. Our strength lies in having no political orientation or affiliation. We are fighting against forces that go beyond political ideologies and differences. We are a large group of people who self fund the organization to benefit Egypt, and to bring an end to decades of corruption. I believe our work will expand to include health, education, media, and other pressing social issues. I can only hope that the day Shayfeencom ceases to exist is the day Egypt is ranked among the least corrupt countries.
*Ahmed Hafez is a founding member of Shayfeencom.