At least 200,000 Egyptians have signed up on the social networking website Facebook to back Mohamed ElBaradei,the former UN nuclear boss who has said he wants to shatter 30 years of political stasis in Egypt by running for president.
Despite a surge in online support for political alternatives to Hosni Mubarak, who has been the Egyptian president since 1981, even ardent ElBaradei supporters acknowledge that online activism in Egypt cannot deliver change without action on the streets.
Yusuf AbdelRahman, representing ElBaradei's Facebook group, said they had gathered 54,870 online petition signatures so far, but added that 15,000 Facebook members have volunteered to go out onto the streets of Cairo and other cities to collect more names.
"[This] is a crucial step considering that three decades of state repression has left many afraid of taking action. Others accept repressive measures as a fact of life," he said.
ElBaradei supporters began signing up to Facebook after the UN nuclear watchdog chief returned to Egyptin February. Their swelling numbers reflect pent-up frustration before parliament and presidential elections this year and next, analysts say.
|Analysts say Facebook support for ElBaradei reflects pent-up frustration [AFP]
But they say the challenge is galvanising the masses in a country where opposition parties are weak, where police crush even modest protests and where the banned Muslim Brotherhood, the biggest opposition group, has shunned action on the streets.
Even modest protests in Egypt draw an overwhelming, and often violent, police response. But heavy-handed security has also been part of the reason activists have taken to the Web.
Facebook became a platform for rallying dissidents in 2008, after the April Sixth Youth movement drew over 70,000 supporters to its page to back a strike over surging food prices. Protests on April 6 of that year had led to clashes with police.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies