So many lessons learned already in the first day of our symposium on the unarmed revolution at Cairo University. Here are a few flashes:
Egypt’s uprising has been described as an internet revolution, but the regime did not fall because of Facebook messages and tweets. It was overthrown by the determined resistance of millions of people in the streets. Estimates we’ve heard range from 8 to 12 million across the country. One of the professors said yesterday, no fewer than 15 million. We’ll reserve judgment on the final number pending more research, but this much is clear: This was one of the largest outpourings of mass civil resistance in human history.
The people faced brutal police repression and attacks by thugs. They died by the hundreds from bullets and beatings. Thousands were injured. Yet they returned to the streets day after day in ever increasing numbers. An incredible display of mass civic courage—similar to what we are witnessing today in the streets of Syria and Yemen.
The revolution was unarmed but not completely nonviolent. Many protestors used rocks, pipes or whatever was available to defend themselves. This was a process of ‘self protection’ (the phrase comes from our colleague Maciej Bartkowski of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, which is cosponsoring the symposium with the Kroc Institute). The protestors did not initiate violent attacks. They consciously attempted to keep the actions peaceful. They only responded when viciously attacked by police and thugs.
Young people initiated and provided decisive early leadership when the revolution began on January 25. During the symposium we heard a group of brilliant, daring and inspiring 20-somethings describe their planning process: how they gathered tens of thousands of people on Facebook prior to January 25, how they trained and prepared carefully for dealing with police attacks, how they convened the initial protests in poor neighborhoods and called for people to join them, and then how they converged on Tahrir Square in central Cairo and discovered to their surprise that they had sparked a mass uprising.
More to come…
2 thoughts on “Dispatches from Egypt, land of revolution”
The only *real* beneficiary of the Egyptian revolution is the Muslim Brotherhood. Now choosing between Hosni Mubarak and the Muslim Brotherhood is a lot like choosing between the bite of an adder or the bite of a viper.
Whether Egyptians prefer the adder or viper is really immaterial. As far as the effect is concerned it really does not matter except that Egypt’s Queen Cleopatra chose the adder. Perhaps the citizens would like a little change and try out the viper this time.
The people of Egypt have worked very hard to throw off the shackles of authoritarianism, and they are attempting to institute true democracy. Naturally, this will be a long and delicate process. Don’t assume that one authoritarian regime will simply be replaced by another without the nonviolent protesters returning to the streets. And now that its existence has been legalized, you can expect the Muslim Brotherhood to have a prominent role in Egypt’s political future. This is not a bad thing as long as democracy is able to flourish.
You characterize Mubarak and the Muslim Brotherhood as an adder and a viper, respectively. The serpent, however, has always had dual symbolism in Egypt. On the one hand, it represents death. On the other, it is associated with creation and life-giving powers. The nonviolent protests that crippled the Mubarak regime and allowed the leading opposition party to gain a greater voice suggest that Egyptians desire to experience life in all of its fullness and complexity. Don’t assume that Egypt will so easily return to autocracy.