Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Rights and Freedoms

First Flickers of an Afghan Facebook Reform Movement

Gran Hewad 3 min

After the revolution in Egypt and Tunisia in which Facebook played a key role, young Afghan Facebook users have started to establish their own pages to organise anti-government protest. They have chosen corruption and reform as their rallying issues. AAN’s Gran Hewad went to the first press conference of one of the reformist groupings but warns readers not to expect an Arab style, mass protest movement any time soon in Afghanistan.

The first of the Afghan reformer groups that formed in the internet, ‘The Reformists’ (islah-talaban, lit. reform-seekers) has come out of the internet and had an event in public. On 30 March 2011, the organisers and some of their followers – altogether around 50 people – gathered on a hill next to Kabul’s Munar-e Shuhada – The Tower of Martyrs –, near the zoo. This tower has a lot of resonance for Kabul citizens, as it is virtually the only historical monument in the Afghan capital that has survived the civil war, thank God.

Among the fifty were mainly media activists and university students, largely from Jamiat and, specifically, the Dr Abdullah camp. Wearing orange, waving bright orange computer-printed mini-posters – reading ‘islahat’ (reforms), ‘fasad’ (corruption – in strike-through modus), ‘power to you’ and ‘we want reforms’ – and with an orange cloth on the speakers’ table, they called for an ‘orange revolution’, similar to the Ukranian one. Some were humming a very popular song of Afghanistan’s best known singer Ahmad Zaher (killed in 1978), ‘Jama naranji’ (Orange Clothes), actually a love song. One participant remarked that ‘this [movement] is an orange flame’.

The main point in the Reformists’ declaration, distributed at the gathering, is criticism of the Ministries of Culture and Information, of Education and of Higher Education for spending huge amounts of funds unproductively over the past ten years, providing low quality school education, sending annually 70,000 high school graduates into university entrance examinations which they are not able to pass and those who make it to and through university onto a difficult job market. They also claim that there are far too few places for the huge numbers of high school students who want to go to university. The objections to the Ministry of Culture and Information were so very vague, it was unclear what exactly they were. Nevertheless, the protesters have given the authorities a ten day ultimatum to change the three ministers and warned that inaction would mean more gatherings. On criticism regarding their unclear and sometimes strange demands one of them answered: ‘We are not saying that we are mature – but we are saying we will keep struggling.’

The ‘Reformists’ plan to mobilise those high school students who did not succeed in the entrance exams for the universities – a large potential of people who look into an unclear future, not unlike the ‘dissatisfied’ parliament candidates whose protest are still continuing.

Complaints have been made by an earlier Facebook group, ‘Say no to Corruption’ which mainly rallies to Amrullah Saleh the former intelligence chief who fell out with President Karzai and was sacked, about the theft of their slogan by the Reformists. Since his dismissal, Saleh is also working on setting up a political movement. Initially, in August 2010, he had a website titled the ‘Green Trend’ (in English only, with a few interviews of him (its address is http://www.green-trend.com/ – but it has been ‘under construction’ since a few months now). Meanwhile, his followers organise gatherings of civil society and young people, also stepping out of facebook now.

The Reformists have stolen this group’s show by coming out into the public first and also rejected its proposal to work together, claiming that their own agenda was wider.

Check out the ‘Reformists’ Facebook page (with currently 4,014 fans) here and the ‘Say no to corruption’ people’s here. The Reformists’ ‘Manifest No 1’ can also be found on their facebook site.

The ‘Reformists’ page has been organized by Abdullah Khudadad, a young Kabul university-educated Afghan currently doing his post-graduate studies. He worked as journalist with Tolo TV and in the Dr Abdullah campaign office in Kabul during the 2009 elections. The ‘Say no to corruption’ site has been set-up by Sayed Wahid Azhar who studied law at Kabul University, working as a pro-Saleh campaigner.

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