How Egypt Changed the Conversation

In the aftermath of the world-changing events in Egypt, the story of how the uprising came about was slowly revealed. It was clear that such a thing doesn’t “just happen.” The grievances in Egypt had built up over 30 years of dictatorship. An educated new generation was coming of age. They didn’t fall into the old political categories; rejecting both autocracy and theocracy, they were not willing to settle any longer for stability over democracy.

As I watched them in Tahrir Square each night on television, it also seemed that they knew what they were doing in regard to security, logistics, and tactics. When they were attacked by the street thugs Hosni Mubarak’s government sent against them, they responded with disciplined nonviolence. They brought new social media to the old drama of fighting for democracy against tyranny.

I could see that those who were leading this nonviolent youth revolution had some training. Sure enough, we learned how the best tools of nonviolent resistance had been passed on, over the last several years, between activists across national boundaries. They drew on the work of seasoned nonviolent scholars and tacticians such as Gene Sharp, whose books on how nonviolent action could bring down dictators helped create the playbook for young Egyptian activists. It was clear that these young Middle East protesters were drawing from King and Gandhi, and that focused study, key relationships, and serious training had all preceded the public events.

It also became clear that these protesters were not radical Islamists eager for a new caliphate, but rather were young professionals, secular youth, and radically moderate Christians and Muslims working together, taking to the streets with both courage and discipline.

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