Signing a demands petition and collecting mass signatures to support the cause and mobilize the community

An Egyptian senior citizen volunteers to collect signatures in the street

The Rebel Movement started a signature petition in order to call for the removal of Egyptian then-president Mohamed Morsi.

The Rebel Movement wanted power in Egypt to transition from then-president Morsi to the Supreme Constitutional Court chief judge. To do so, they organized a petition with the goal of collecting 15 million signatures by June 30, 2013, the date which marked one year of Morsi’s rule.

The campaign began as a paper petition that supporters would print out or copy, then fill out and submit to the Rebel Movement headquarters. In order to provide legitimacy to the signatures, the form required the full name and national ID number of each supporter. At first the movement was very decentralized and depended on the active participation of registered Rebel Movement members who volunteered to collect signatures. These activists would make photocopies of the petition and collect the signatures of their acquaintances. They also held focused campaigns at universities in order to register students.

As the number of collected signatures grew, the movement began to attract media attention. The Rebel Movement held press conferences to announce the number of signatures and to encourage more people to participate. Eventually the organization was able to launch a website that enabled people to sign the petition and register online.

Once the movement became bigger, other Egyptian opposition groups such as Kfaya, the National Salvation Front, 6 April and the National Association for Change declared their support for the movement. The Egyptian Bar Association also issued a statement voicing their support to the movement and allowed the bar headquarters to be a collection point for signed petitions. Celebrities and public figures also joined the movement, posting pictures of themselves signing the petition to social media and publically declaring their support. Volunteers made and distributed T-shirts, posters, and bumper stickers with the Rebel Movement logo printed on them. In order to facilitate the collection of petitions, members would rent apartments and turn them into the headquarters of the movement for a particular neighborhood. As June 30 approached, it was common to see people lining up in front of a Rebel Movement volunteer in a public square or waiting inside grocery stores and restaurants that served as collection points.

The first Rebel Movement press conference announced the collection of more than 2 million signatures. By June 29, 2013, the organization had collected over 22 million signatures, bypassing by far their initial goal of 15 million. On June 30, supporters of the movement took to the streets to demonstrate their opinions. The movement was eventually successful because Morsi was removed from power.

The Rebel Movement did face significant challenges in implementing their tactic of circulating a petition. In the Egyptian post-revolutionary political climate, expression of opposition could be dangerous, and the movement headquarters were attacked several times. The organization refused to be stopped by violence, however, and used the attacks to gain more support and sympathy from the citizens they were trying to engage.

The Rebel Movement also faced a challenge from a rival petition that collected the signatures of those who supported Morsi. This campaign announced that it had collected a higher number of signatures. However, the organizers of this campaign were unable to support their claims. The Rebel Movement was careful to collect full names and ID numbers to legitimize their claims. In addition, when they called for a demonstration, their signatories came out into the streets to support their cause. The rival group was unable to generate any significant public demonstration. The honesty and good record keeping of the Rebel Movement allowed them to stay legitimate in the face of challenges.

New Tactics in Human Rights does not advocate for or endorse specific tactics, policies or issues.

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What we can learn from this tactic: 

The Rebel Movement tactic is notable because it succeeded in mobilizing a large number of people for a single cause. Part of its success came from its beginnings as a paper petition. It is easy and quick for someone to sign an online petition, but they may not follow up on the results or volunteer to help the petition succeed. Printing, signing, and turning in a paper petition requires more commitment and can lead to more involvement. For this reason, organizations considering a petition will want to think carefully about which method to use. Online petitions are less work-intensive but they may not lead to as significant of results.

Organizations should keep in mind, however, that Egypt’s political situation at this time was fairly unique and that they should not expect the success that the Rebel Movement experienced. Many other factors, not simply signatures on a petition, led to the eventual fulfillment of the movement’s demands. In general, petitions are a good way to demonstrate support and raise awareness of an issue, but they should not be seen as a tool to effectuate regime change.