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Egypt's Election Turns Into a Battle of Multiple Ushahidis

BY Nancy Scola | Tuesday, November 23 2010

The Muslim Brotherhood has launched an instance of Ushahidi, one of several launched to monitor Egypt's upcoming parliamentary election.

Crisis Mappers' Anahi Ayala Iacucci reports that at least five instances of the Ushahidi crowd-reporting platform have sprung up in the run-up to Sunday's parliamentary election in Egypt, and Evgeny Morozov has poked fun at the fact that one of them happens to be the doctrinaire Islamists in the Muslim Brotherhood. But one person who thinks that's a terrific turn of events is Patrick Meier, Ushahidi's director of crisis mapping and strategic partnerships.

"It's brilliant," said Meier, a PhD candidate at Tufts' Fletcher School, when I caught up with him in Chile this weekend. "They're using it to monitor the harassment of their own candidates, and I think it's great." Meier judged the concerns of the Egyptian Democratic Academy that the Muslim Brotherhood ripped off their version of Usahidi and thus impinged upon EDA's "intellectual property" rights rather overblown, given that Ushahidi is a free and open-source platform, customizable by any user, and, besides, at least at the moment, MB's Shahid2010.com looks nothing like EDA's U-shahid.org.

"It's adding another layer of transparency" to this weekend's election in Egypt, said Meier, "and maybe that competition is a good thing." Taken altogether, that so many groups have rushed to embrace a free mechanism for monitoring elections in Egypt is probably, yes, a bit of a PR move, but also a sign that at least some Egyptians are embracing the idea that elections are best as a social, broadly participatory experience.

That said, crowdsourcing election monitoring in Egypt takes on added weight when we consider that the big international NGOs that usually take on the task of watching votes take place in world trouble spots are being shut out of this go-round. As groups like the Carnegie Endowment has complained, Cairo has refused to allow in outside monitors for Sunday's election, claiming that as a sovereign nation, the responsibility to make sure the vote does smoothly begins and ends in Egypt.

And more: Evgeny makes a clarifying point. "I've got no problem with Egypt's MB or their use of Ushahidi," he tweets. "Uncritical support of U[shahidi] in DC is another matter." And the Foreign Policy Association's  Chris Doten challenges Meier's taken. "Less is more," he tweets. "Splitting info btw maps weakens each."