taHrir sQUare, 2011
One of the most remarkable things about the protests that ousted President
Hosni Mubarak in February was the lack of violence. That was no accident
By MARwA AwAd And HUgo dixon 32 and interested in politics and how Egypt jobs in london.
CAIRO/lOndOn, APR 13 might change, was intrigued by the idea. Inspired by the way Serbian group Otpor
He contacted the group, lighting one of the had brought down Slobodan Milosevic
I n early 2005, Cairo-based computer
engineer Saad Bahaar was trawling the
internet when he came across a trio of
fuses that would end in freedom in Tahrir
Square six years later.
The three men he approached -- Hisham
through non-violent protests in 2000, the
trio studied previous struggles. One of their
favourite thinkers was Gene Sharp, a Boston-
Egyptian expatriates who advocated the Morsy, a physician, Wael Adel, a civil based academic who was heavily influenced
use of non-violent techniques to overthrow engineer by training, and Adel’s cousin by Mahatma Gandhi. The group had set
strongman Hosni Mubarak. Bahaar, then Ahmed, a chemist -- had all left Egypt for up a webpage in 2004 to propagate civil
EgyPT’S PEACEFUL REVoLUTion APRiL 2011
disobedience ideas in Arabic. EnoUgH: The movement in Egypt was inspired by
At first, the three young Egyptians’ activities Serbia’s OTpOr, which means resistance. left, an
were purely theoretical. But in november 2005, elderly woman in Serbia carries an OTpOr banner,
april 13, 2000 . Below, a boy sits inside the tracks of
Wael Adel came to Cairo to give a three-day an army tank in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Feb. 18, 2011
training session on civil disobedience. In the REUTERS/goRAn ToMASEViC, SUHAiB SALEM
audience were about 30 members of Kefaya,
an anti-Mubarak protest group whose name disagreement between its younger activists
means “enough” in Arabic. Kefaya had gained and older politicians. By 2007, it had lost its
prominence during the September 2005 momentum and many had quit.
presidential elections which Mubarak won by a
landslide. during these protests, they had been THE ACAdEMY OF CHAnGE
attacked by thugs and some women members In THE MEAnTIME, the trio of thinkers had
had been stripped naked. Bahaar joined Adel morphed into an organisation called the
on the course and his career as an underground Academy of Change -- based in london and
trainer in non-violent activism was born. ultimately moving to Qatar. The Academy
Adel taught activists how to function within became a window for Egypt’s activists into
a decentralised network. doing so would repressive crackdown in the name of law and civil disobedience movements outside the
make it harder for the security services to snuff order. But you must avoid this trap.” Arab world. To disseminate the new methods
them out by arresting leaders. They were also The process took time. As Wael Adel put it of resistance, it wrote books about nonviolent
instructed on how to maintain a disciplined during an interview in a rundown Cairo cafe in activism with a focus on the Arab world:
non-violent approach in the face of police March, there was a process of “trial and error” “Civil disobedience,” “nonviolent War the
brutality, and how to win over bystanders. before Egypt’s non-violent warriors were 3rd Choice” and “AOC MindQuake” that were
“The third party, the bystander sitting on the strong enough to begin to take on a dictator. published in 2007.
fence, will join when he realises that security Kefaya, for example, did run some more A year later the Academy published
forces’ use of violence is unwarranted,” campaigns – including one for judicial “Shields to Protect Against Fear”, a manual
Bahaar said in one of a series of interviews independence in 2006. But it failed to on techniques to protect one’s body against
with Reuters. “Security will harass you to stir mass protests or expand beyond the attacks by security services during a protest.
provoke an angry violent response to justify a middle class elite. There was also internal “The idea of non-violent protest is not
EgyPT’S PEACEFUL REVoLUTion APRiL 2011
crucial in the Egypt
academy of Change
manuals online, while
social media -- here
protesters sit near
Facebook, Feb. 7, 2011
-- allowed people to
more easily organise.
martyrdom,” Adel said. “We knew to get least three people were killed, hundreds were Powerpoint presentations that explained
ordinary Egyptians, and Arabs, to face their wounded and scores arrested. how you maximise the power of a protest
governments and security, they have to have More discipline was needed. Bahaar began movement. Every protester had a family, and
tools to protect themselves. This boosts the to widen his efforts, traveling to disparate around the family was a wider community,
morale and enthusiasm to go to the street.” locations farther away from the capital to Bahaar explained. If a protester was arrested or
The ideas espoused by the Academy spread extend grassroots awareness of peaceful civil beaten by the police, his or her family might be
through Egypt. The calls for change reached disobedience. radicalised. Similarly, if a policeman engaged
industrial areas where large groups of workers Meanwhile, ex-Kefaya activists formed the in brutality, his family and social network
have long suffered low wages and bad work April 6 Facebook group, using the internet might not be supportive. By maintaining
conditions. Mounting economic hardship to gather supporters. The group adopted the disciplined non-violent activity, the regime’s
mobilised workers in the nile delta city of Otpor clenched-fist logo and some members power could be progressively weakened.
Mahalla El Kobra, home to the country’s biggest traveled to Serbia for civil disobedience training. Why wasn’t Bahaar himself arrested? He
textile factory. The workers had been in contact says this was partly because he was working
with Kefaya activists and other independent THE FACEBOOK ACTIVISTS underground but also, he thinks, because the
labour activists. The groundwork for a sustained FEBRUARY 2010. Mohamed ElBaradei security services didn’t judge his non-violent
mass mobilisation was being prepared. was back in Cairo. The former head of the approach a threat.
The first real victory sprung from Mahalla International Atomic Energy Association and Others were not so lucky. Khaled Said, 28,
in december 2006 when over 20,000 nobel peace prize winner had inspired some was beaten to death by police in Alexandria,
textile workers staged a six-day strike over of Egypt’s younger generation that change Egypt’s second-largest city, in June 2010. His
unpaid bonuses. The protesters -- peaceful was possible. Several of them had created family said he had posted a video showing
but stubborn -- confused police forces a Facebook page backing ElBaradei as the police officers sharing the spoils of a drugs
accustomed to clashing with disorganised country’s next president. But how were they to bust. Said’s body was barely recognisable and
crowds. The government offered concessions achieve their goal given Mubarak’s repressive the act of brutality galvanised further protests
to avoid losses from a halt to production. regime? They turned to the Academy for help. -- in particular, the anti-torture Facebook
Then came a setback. In April 2008, workers The Academy directed them to its online page “We are Khaled Said,” created by Google
in Mahalla went out on strike again, over training manuals, which the Facebook activists executive Wael Ghonim and underground
rising prices. An online call by Kefaya’s former tried for a while. But despite their internet activist AbdelRahman Mansour.
activists to support the Mahalla strike on savvy, many felt that relying entirely on online The page played a pivotal role in spreading
fizzled out. Meanwhile, in Mahalla, the protest training was too theoretical. Couldn’t the non-violent strategies such as “flash mob”
turned violent. Activists claim plain-clothes Academy give them practical training? silent protests, where groups of people
police destroyed public and police property Enter Bahaar. suddenly gather in a public place and do
and then blamed it on the protesters. Bloody Those who had signed up to the Facebook something unusual in unison for a short
clashes between police and Mahalla citizens page were divided into groups of 100. Bahaar time before dispersing. Instructions for a
lasted three days. Police fired live rounds and trained eight of the groups in different parts nationwide “flash mob” were posted on the
teargas, while enraged crowds threw rocks. At of the country using, among other tools, page. Participants were told to dress in black
EgyPT’S PEACEFUL REVoLUTion APRiL 2011
ViCToRy: Pro-democracy supporters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, February 18, 2011. A nationwide “Victory March” celebrated the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak a week earlier.
REUTERS/MoHAMEd ABd EL-gHAny
and arrive at specific locations in small groups nationwide march to demand the dissolution well connected with people in their local areas.
to skirt the ban on large public gatherings. of parliament, the disbanding of the state Ideas spread like a virus,” says Bahaar.
They formed single files along main roads with security agency, seen by Egyptians as the Protesters conversed with riot police sent to
their backs turned to the street. After a certain state’s main arm of torture, and the resignation cordon off the Square. The aim was simple: win
hour they marched away. of the interior minister. over those in uniform. Women gave out food
“The Khaled Said page drew countless The date chosen for mass action was Jan. and biscuits to hungry conscripts and officers.
willing supporters, many apolitical, because 25, Egypt’s national police day. Mansour -- Young people quickly regrouped after being
its focus was ending human rights violations who was conscripted into the army on Jan. 17 dispersed. Some climbed security personnel
and that is an issue that affects all citizens. The -- posted the call for the nationwide march carriers to drag down officers firing teargas
page set gradual, easy-to-handle tasks. People on dec. 28. Protesters were urged to march and water cannons, raising the crowd’s
felt safe and joined,” said Ahmed Saleh, one to Cairo’s Tahrir Square and other public resolve to push security back and gain more
of the organisers working with the ElBaradei spaces across the country. The page was not ground. A pattern of whistling and rhythmic
youth campaign and Khaled Said page. yet calling for Mubarak to go. It was Tunisia’s banging of stones on metal fences in Tahrir
like Mahalla’s 2006 strike, the flash mob popular uprising, which reached its climax spontaneously developed when they needed
was a new type of protest unfamiliar to security on Jan. 14 with the ousting of President Zein to rally reinforcements to hold the fort.
forces. Its cadres were organised, civil, and El Abedine Ben Ali, which turned Egypt’s Protesters would also whistle to signal their
well diffused across Egypt -- and seemingly protests into an uprising. success in forcing security to pull back.
leaderless. The police didn’t know how to The protest drew people of all ages and Encouraged by the mass protests, the
react. Participants were trained in non-violent backgrounds. By 8 p.m. a unified, single chant Khaled Said page posted a second online
techniques -- both online, by the “Khaled Said” inspired by Tunisia rang around Tahrir (Arabic call for Friday, Jan. 28, naming the event a
page founders, and on the ground, by Bahaar. for “freedom”) Square: “The people demand the “revolution” to overthrow the regime.
fall of the regime.” By then, many understood April 6 activists and youth from the Muslim
FREEdOM SQUARE at least a few of the tactics of non-violent Brotherhood formed the crucial front lines of
In lATE 2010, THE Khaled Said page decided disobedience. “You don’t need to train every protesters who broke security cordons and
to call for something more ambitious -- a single protester, only a small group of activists later faced attacks from pro-Mubarak loyalists.
EgyPT’S PEACEFUL REVoLUTion APRiL 2011
noT oVER: A “non-violent action is not just about non-
protester shouts violence, but also about joy and happiness,”
slogans during a
Adel said. “The festive atmosphere was a key
protest in Tahrir element to drawing the high numbers that
square, April 8, Egypt had rarely seen. People felt safe so they
2011. Protesters came out. They saw in Tahrir what Egypt could
central square possibly be in the future and they wanted to be
to put pressure part of this new Egypt.”
on the ruling The protests were not entirely peaceful. In
military council particular, scuffles broke out after a group
Hosni Mubarak. of thugs thought to have been organised
REUTERS/ by Mubarak’s henchmen charged through
ASMAA the square on horses and camels on Feb.
2, beating and whipping protestors in what
came to be known as the “Battle of the
Camel”. Many demonstrators fought back,
throwing stones at Mubarak loyalists to keep
them from entering the square. But there was
no wholesale riot and discipline returned.
The youth of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s “The key to a successful non-violent revolt
ground to its 2008 manual. This explained
most organised opposition force whose is its ability to constantly reinvent and correct
how people could protect their chests and
members are accustomed to working within itself,” Adel says. “If violence or conflict breaks
backs with makeshift shields made of plastic
disciplined ranks, played a critical role in out, quickly resolve it while finding ways to
and thick cardboard, and how to mitigate the
organising activists into security teams to avoid it.” Trained cadres shouted “peaceful,
effect of teargas by covering their faces with
guard Tahrir Square’s multiple entrances. peaceful!” to restrain their hotter-headed
handkerchiefs doused in vinegar, lemons or
They searched those who came into the square colleagues. Soon after, the army, which had
for weapons or fluids that could be turned not been involved in the clashes, said it would
For the most part, people were having fun.
into Molotov cocktails. They wanted neither not fire on unarmed civilians.
They also took pride in their ownership of the
infiltrators nor supporters to turn to violence. nine days later Mubarak was gone.
square. Music was put on. Volunteers and
To help demonstrators hold true to non- protesters swept it, collected garbage and
violent resistance, the Academy posted (Editing by Simon Robinson and Sara
online an eight-minute film covering similar Ledwith)
telephone interview from Boston, where he
runs the Albert Einstein Institution, a non-
profit organisation that advances the study
and use of nonviolent action in conflicts
around the world.
discipline means remaining non-violent
despite brutality and provocation. “Sometimes
the people using non-violent techniques don’t
fully understand the methods,” says Sharp,
By HUgo dixon
who has written numerous books on the
lOndOn, Apr 13
history of non-violent struggles, including
two books on India’s Mahatma Gandhi. “They
G ene Sharp’s writings on how to use
non-violent techniques to bring down
autocratic regimes are often cited as a
think that if they refrain from violence, their
opponents will too.”
Quite the opposite, Sharp argues. The more
major influence on the activists who led the
authoritarian a regime, the more you have to
campaign against Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak.
expect it to resort to violence. That’s partly
The 83-year-old American academic had
because it’s in its dnA; but also because
never met or spoken to those behind the
it deliberately uses violence to provoke a
successful uprising. But he has strong views
response, knowing that this will solidify its
on what happened in Egypt and what is
own power base.
happening elsewhere in the Middle East. First
On the other hand, if protesters can
and foremost, he stresses the importance
maintain a disciplined non-violent approach,
of preparation and discipline. The Egyptian SHARP THinKER: U.S. academic Sharp’s writings
the regime’s brutality will boomerang on have been a major influence on protest movements
protesters were prepared while the libyans around the world. REUTERS/HAndoUT
itself. Sharp calls this “political jujitsu”.
were not, Sharp said in an hour-long
EgyPT’S PEACEFUL REVoLUTion APRiL 2011
Massacres undermine the support of all but in libya. Early on in the revolution, some parts start a struggle you are not competent to
the most hardened members of an autocrat’s of Gadaffi’s army joined the rebels’ cause, see through. Better to start with smaller
entourage. Soldiers and policemen find it hard especially in the second city of Benghazi. It campaigns until you build up expertise and
to mow down peaceful civilians. The turning was good that the reliability of the army had discipline, as happened in Egypt, before you
point in the Egyptian revolution was when been undermined, he says, but bad when try to overthrow a whole regime.
the army said it would not fire on the crowd in some soldiers turned their guns the other way. That said, Sharp acknowledges that it can
Tahrir Square. That allowed the crumbling regime to close be hard for protesters in one part of the Arab
Sharp says political jujitsu can be used in ranks. Ideally, the disaffected soldiers would world to stand idly by when the whole region
situations that look particularly unpromising have sat in their barracks and gone on strike. is in ferment. And he says it is sometimes
-- for example, norway during World War Two. But wouldn’t libya’s protestors have been possible to win without discipline and
When the puppet regime of Vidkun Quisling massacred if they hadn’t resorted to violence? training: he points to non-violent uprisings in
sent teachers who refused to promote nazi This happened, for example, in Yemen, where El Salvador and Guatemala in 1944. But such
theories to concentration camps, further 52 anti-government protesters were killed an approach is risky.
protests erupted. Eventually, the teachers in the capital on March 18 by plain-clothes Sharp also says it is vital that protestors
were released. snipers; and in Syria, where at least 37 don’t try to short-cut their road to freedom
The key mistake in a non-violent struggle demonstrators were killed on Mar. 23 in the by relying on outside intervention. Part of the
is resorting to violence oneself. This is not a southern town of deraa. reason is that the international community
matter of morality but of efficacy. A classic Sharp’s answer is “probably yes”. But he has its own agenda. But it’s also because it’s
case, he argues, were the protests against argues that the need to take casualties is “extremely important for the future that the
Russia’s Tsar nicholas II in 1905. After no different in non-violent struggles than in victory is won by the people on the ground.
hundreds of people were killed or injured in a violent ones; and when one suffers casualties, They have to cherish that victory.” If you rely
peaceful march on the Winter Palace, the army in both cases, it is necessary to maintain on others to get you your freedom, you don’t
was on the point of mutiny as soldiers did not discipline. To run a successful non-violent overcome fear. You are then more vulnerable
have the stomach for further bloodshed. But struggle, one has to overcome fear. to the next dictator. He thinks that won’t be
it closed ranks after the Bolsheviks resorted But what happens if you haven’t been the case with Egypt’s revolutionaries – whom
to violence, according to Sharp -- and the trained like the Egyptian revolutionaries and he’d be very happy to meet.
Romanovs lasted another 12 years. can’t therefore maintain discipline in the face (Editing by Simon Robinson and Sara
Sharp believes the same mistake was made of brutal attacks? Sharp says you shouldn’t Ledwith)
CoVER PHoTo: Protestors sleep in make shift tents at Tahrir Square in Cairo March 2, 2011. REUTERS/PETER AndREWS
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HUGO dIXON, EdItOR,
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