The Common Good
May 2011

Best Practices in Egypt

by Kathy Kamphoefner | May 2011

What the Egyptians did right: a Cairo-based nonviolence trainer looks at what the Jan. 25 activists did right.

Here are nine "best practices" used by organizers that helped lead to a successful nonviolent campaign in Egypt:

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1. Clear Goals. The organizers clearly identified their goals early on. They were posted in Tahrir Square for everyone to see. The organizers stuck to these goals, even when pressured to settle for less.

2. Broad Base. The organizers built a wide coalition across Egyptian civil society, including the whole political spectrum: Muslims and Christians; farmers, students, and labor; the poor and the wealthy.

3. Positive relations with the army. The organizers actively and strategically cultivated a positive relationship with the army. After the police withdrew, organizers brought the soldiers tea, flowers, and lots of kisses. This was based on the organizers' understanding of nonviolence, as well as their study of recent successful nonviolent revolutions, during which the army either did not intervene or actively supported the change, such as in Serbia.

4. Women. They created a safe place for women. The organizers encouraged and welcomed the participation of women and children, something that is crucial for the security of everyone. They made it clear that the sexual harassment of women was not allowed (this is something which is a big problem in Cairo), thereby making it safer for women to participate.

5. Cultural Enjoyment. They made the demonstrations fun! Inside Tahrir Square were a number of stages -- one had speakers, at another someone led chants. There were stages with musicians, singing, and comedy acts. They offered face painting and lots of art, especially cartoons for posters. Organizers created a sense of community -- of the "new Egypt" -- inside Tahrir Square.

6. Work Teams. Participants organized to address their own needs. Citizen teams erected tents for those who wanted to stay, mobilized morning clean-up crews, and provided security, in addition to opening bathrooms, bringing food and water, and establishing both a hospital area and a kindergarten. While Egypt has no recycling program, organizers even implemented their own recycling program in the square.

7. Peacekeepers. The organizers' security crew made it safe to be in the square. They put up checkpoints at each entrance at the perimeter and checked identification. They didn’t allow in people with police IDs or those of the Ministry of Interior’s secret police. They patted down everyone. The volunteers were very respectful to everyone and apologized for searching people.

8. Open Participation. Meetings were held every evening where all were welcome and a style of participatory decision-making was used to make sure all were heard.

9. Public Opinion. The organizers had the majority of public opinion with them.

Two important myths were debunked by the January 25 Revolution. First, there is a myth that nonviolent movements must have "a single charismatic leader." This revolution was led by a coalition of groups. Second, there is a myth that revolution takes a long time. Depending on how you measure it, this one took 18 days -- though organizers have been busy since 2008.

For days after the events in Tahrir Square, the clean-up crews were still cleaning the normally filthy streets of downtown Cairo. Their positive spirit symbolizes the essential work of building a new Egypt that will continue in the weeks and months ahead.

Kathy Kamphoefner, director of Refugees United for Peaceful Solutions (www.refugees4peace.org) in Cairo, Egypt, has taught conflict resolution and nonviolent change in the Middle East for eight years and was in Tahrir Square eight times during the 18 days of the January 25 Revolution. She was interviewed via email by Sojourners' Rose Marie Berger.

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