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El-Hamalawy doesn’t understand nonviolence

In a recent article for NL-Aid, influential Egyptian journalist and blogger Hossam el-Hamalawy, whose writings I often like, reveals his deep ignorance about how nonviolent action works. He writes that:

One of the biggest myths invented by the media, tied to this whole Gene Sharp business: the Egyptian revolution was “peaceful.” I’m afraid it wasn’t. The revolution (like any other revolution) witnessed violence by the security forces that led to the killing of at least 846 protesters.

But the people did not sit silent and take this violence with smiles and flowers. We fought back. We fought back the police and Mubarak’s thugs with rocks, Molotov cocktails, sticks, swords and knives. The police stations which were stormed almost in every single neighborhood on the Friday of Anger–that was not the work of “criminals” as the regime and some middle class activists are trying to propagate. Protesters, ordinary citizens, did that.

No proponent of nonviolence would ever argue that by using nonviolent action protesters will not face violence from the state. In fact, in most cases, when facing repressive regimes violence should be expected.

Moreover, no one that I know ever claimed that there was absolutely no violence in Egypt. We acknowledged the violence of the protesters on this site and were critical of it.

That said, to argue that it was the “rocks, Molotov cocktails, sticks, swords and knives” that won the day in Egypt is crazy. Could anyone really think that these crude weapons were any match for Egypt’s military and security apparatus?

Rather than being a key to their eventual victory, the moments when protesters resorted to violence were the closest points during the uprising that they came to losing control. The throwing of rocks was about as useful strategically in Egypt as it is in Palestine. Such desperate acts distract onlookers from the cause they are fighting for and provide a ready excuse for state repression.

The truth is that most people in Tahrir Square and throughout Egypt did face violence without responding in kind and their nonviolent discipline was a key to their success. If most people had responded with violence the death toll of the revolution would have been dramatically higher and Mubarak may very well have prevailed.