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Academy for Change’s Saad Bahaar on Egypt’s revolution

In a piece for the Washington Post’s On Faith blog, Chicago Theological Seminary professor Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite wrote on Friday about a conference at Cairo University called “The Nonviolent Revolution in Egypt: Learned Lessons” that she had just returned from.

One of the speakers was Saad Bahaar, a trainer with the Academy for Change, a group of Egyptian expats that has published resources on nonviolence in Arabic and helped train activists in Egypt prior to the revolution, who she quotes at length:

“Since 2004, many attempts were made to make change but we couldn’t. We studied the Serbian model, applied in 160 countries including the U.S., and we made the Kifaya Movement that means “Enough” in English. It crossed an invisible line and criticized Mubarak himself, which was a taboo. We did many nonviolent trainings. We read Gene Sharpe’s writings, we found German scholars on the science of nonviolence, people started to translate these into Arabic, I translated Gene Sharpe. We had to change the culture of violence and the culture of fear. We learned from Sharpe you have choices, either give power your obedience, or withdraw your support for the regime, be disobedient. But, the rule is, strategies cannot be copied, they have to be adapted for the demands of the location.”

Thistlethwaite also mentions a presentation by our good friend Maciej Bartkowski from ICNC, which she called a “bright spot in the concluding sessions and one that seemed to provoke great interest among the Egyptians.”

Bartkowski has researched the role of nonviolent revolutions and the transition to democracy, and had several very concrete observations and suggestions for the Egyptians. Chief among these is that nonviolent civil resistance movements often produce democratic transitions when the “lessons learned” are to keep up public mobilization and build up new civil institutions that can keep reform going. Of special interest to the symposium was the history of Solidarity in Poland, and how the Polish did small constitutional reforms for more than decade.