Egyptian organization el3askarmap combines crowdsourced research efforts and online tools to gather data and map the presence of military personnel in civilian positions within different state-run institutions such as ministries, villages, cities, economic bodies, and others.
Egyptian military affairs and related information has always been a taboo subject in Egypt, and inquiry into the military’s activities constituted a red line that citizens were afraid to cross. This left average citizens with virtually no information regarding one of the most vital and influential institutions in the country.
Before and after the Egyptian revolution began 25 January 2011, “Down with Military Rule” was one of major and primary chants by the people. After the first 18 days of the revolution, there were increasing demands by many people to understand and know to what extent the military is involved in running the country, especially after a period when the Supreme Council of Armed Forces ruled the country and grave human rights violations took place.
Since the government doesn’t share information voluntarily or enforce transparency laws, a group of activists decided in 2012 to visually present the presence of the military figures in different civilian positions in the country by:
- Gathering information through crowdsourcing techniques;
- Verifying the information; and
- Presenting the data visually.
The main motivation for the use of this tactic was to raise awareness and to generate information to be used by others for various purposes. The map doesn’t present any military information. Rather, it gathers information about any current or former military personnel who currently hold a civilian position. For each military figure, the team gathers the following information:
- Full name;
- Military rank;
- Current civilian position;
- Current government sector;
- Photo; and
- Location of the office.
Gathering and verifying the information happens in a collaborative and decentralized way. The team utilizes different sources for verification, including government websites, news coverage, knowledge of local residents, updates on protests and demonstrations against officials, and other news photos and videos.
It is very important when developing such tactics in human rights to apply solid verification methods, because such tactics will usually produce information that people never had access to, or may simply not be aware of. Producing inaccurate information could lead to a backlash from society. In some contexts, these activities can also bring great risk to those involved. Given security and privacy considerations, it is important to consider the safety and anonymity for those involved in carrying out the tactic at each stage of the process.
Information enhances people's ability to make decisions and take action. It also helps people to be aware of the context and environment in which they are living. In repressive as well as democratic regimes, the government usually does all what it can to keep certain kind of information hidden and secret. As a result, people’s initiatives and actions to dig into and produce information are critical.
In this case, the information is very sensitive and requires good research and verification skills. It also requires a solid understanding of the positive and negative consequences of such work. Challenges experienced by the team in Egypt include consistency of information and verification.
Depending on the context and strategic goals, this kind of tactic could be used to build public awareness, or to pressure for greater transparency and accountability in government.