Rise up like an Egyptian: Final thoughts

The people of Egypt have achieved a tremendous victory, one that has inspired the whole world to celebrate. The possibilities it raises for peace and democracy not only give hope to a region beset by authoritarian rule and Western intervention, but prove that nonviolent action is alive and well in the Muslim world.

Unfortunately, this latter point is often lost or overlooked by our major media outlets, whose experts and analysts have so little knowledge of the history and dynamics of nonviolence that they typically don’t know how to interpret what they’ve just seen. To counter this shortcoming, Waging Nonviolence has asked a wide range of eminent thinkers to discuss their initial thoughts on this historic moment, the challenges ahead and what it all means for the future of nonviolent action.

This is the fifth and final installment of their responses, which we’ve been presenting as a series over the last few days. (Here are links to Part 1, 2, 3 and 4.)

Are there any final thoughts you’d like to share on the Egyptian uprising?

“The vulnerability of dictatorships to this type of resistance has been displayed very clearly and witnessed by people (and governments) on all corners of the globe.  This will no doubt have very important consequences in terms of how people view political power, and how it can be gained and lost.  People have seen what is possible.  This new awareness will make it more difficult for those whose rule depends on the complacency and helplessness of their population.” – Jamila Raqib, Executive Director, Albert Einstein Institution

“One improtant point is related to the impact this wave of nonviolent social change may have on the rest of the world.  The fact is that after many years where world political and media attention have been focused on other issues (from terrorism and the wars in Iraq and Afganistan, to the world ecconomic crisis) the issues of democracy, and human rights, especially after yesterday’s address by President Obama and representatives of EU, is now on the top of the agenda of world leaders and the international media. This is good and encouraging news for those who bravely struggle for democratic changes as we speak throughout the remaining dictatorships in the world – from Algeria, Yemen and Iran, to Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Sudan and Burma. The inspiration and know-how coming from the impressive Egytpian people is out there.” – Srdja Popovic, Founder, Centre for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS)

“I want to comment on the meme that the uprising in Egypt wasn’t truly nonviolent because there were some clashes between protesters & police, some acts of vandalism, rock throwing and other isolated incidents of rage.

It is true that there was an undisciplined element in the uprising, but that is always inevitable as these things grow, because not everyone has been trained in nonviolent strategy.

But the movement itself is/was nonviolent and they’ve been preparing for this confrontation for a long time. They understand the necessity of strict nonviolent discipline.Just as there was a radical flank in South Africa, in the US Civil Rights movement, in the Chilean resistance to Pinochet, and in many other nonviolent uprisings, there may have been a more radical flank here. So it is/was the job of the movement to a) distinguish themselves from that contingent, b) make it clear that no violence will be tolerated as part of the struggle, and c) train and discipline new activists on the ground as they join. They succeed on all counts.

It is important to see that the Egyptian regime was doing everything it could to provoke violence (or at the least, the perception of it) by the movement. They wanted to create the notion that what the movement was doing was not nonviolent and therefore not legitimate. It was very important that the activists minimized their vulnerability to such agent provocateurs, which they did extraordinarily well, especially considering the size of this movement. It is also important now that we (as observers) do not inadvertently serve the interests of dictators like Mubarak or of other similar regimes, who seek to take volition and credit away from brave nonviolent activists. This was their victory and they earned it.” – Cynthia Boaz, Assistant Professor, Sonoma State University

“What comes to mind is a conversation I had in January with a member of the South African military. I told him, well, I believe peace education is more important than military education because if you use nonviolence the costs are lower and benefits higher. He said, well, what about Cote d’Ivoire? How do we get that guy out? I told him that the ultimate Weapon of Mass Insurrection was general strike. Do it completely long enough and you win, except in the cases like Tibet, where a colonizing population has made the indigenous population less necessary. Sure enough, just when it looked like Egypt could be quite bloody or be crammed back into the Mubarak mold, labor and others joined the rise up and that was decisive. That, I believe, was the tipping point.” – Tom Hastings, Director of Peace and Nonviolence, Portland State University

“Though there is much work to be done I am tremendously optimistic and have great faith that the Egyptian people will continue fighting to make their democracy real.” – Mary Joyce, Founder and Executive Director, Meta-Activism Project

“Watch out Qadafi, Asad, Abdullah. We are coming for you.” – Reza Aslan, Associate Professor, University of California, Riverside

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