Millions of people demonstrated throughout Egypt over the past month, once again demanding the fall of the regime. Former president Mohammed Morsi’s regime fought back, but the people stayed. Finally, the army stepped in and forced the ruler to step down. “The people and the army are one hand!” chanted the crowds. Masses of ordinary Egyptians, it would seem, compelled one part of the regime to turn against the other and bring about change.
Or perhaps that isn’t what happened at all.
Scholars of civil resistance often argue that one key mechanism for change is defections — in which key loyalists and functionaries withdraw their support from the power structure. Examples include transportation workers during the California farm workers’ movement, security forces during the People Power campaign in the Philippines, or the so-called “refuseniks,” the Israeli soldiers who declined to serve in the occupied Palestinian territories during the First Intifada. In reviewing the historical record of more than 100 civil resistance campaigns between 1900 and 2006, Maria Stephan and I found that security-force defections dramatically increase the chances for nonviolent resistance to succeed. Such changes of course among elites can go a long way toward bringing about the will of the people.
But recent events in Libya, Syria and Egypt suggest that defections can also carry considerable risks for nonviolent campaigns. In the cases of Libya and Syria, nonviolent action led to defections among the armed forces early on in the conflicts. However, the defectors took their weapons with them, regrouped as armed challengers, and essentially undermined and supplanted nonviolent campaigns by initiating armed struggle. —Erica Chenoweth,Changing sides doesn’t always make for transformation — just look at Egypt (Waging Nonviolence)
I’ve been following events in Egypt with interest for how the popular movement and the religious leaders are working together. It’s not easy to get information.
But I was very interested that the leader of the Coptic church, Pope Tawadros II (follow him on twitter at #Tawadros), spoke at the speech in support of the military action removing Morsi. The Christian Copts are a religious minority in Egypt and sometimes subject to persecution.) I’m also looking for the speeches by Mohammed ElBaradei and Tamarod’s youth leaders Mahmoud Badr and Mohamed Abdelaziz, who also spoke in support of the military intervention.
There is some strong criticism against ElBaradei, the Nobel Prize winner, that he will support neoliberal economic reforms (read “austerity”) in Egypt. It’s hard to get accurate information on what’s happening with the youth movement. Tamarod was the name of the Tunisian movement and it looks like the Egyptian youth movements have coalesced under that name. (Read more about the Egyptian nonviolence struggle in my Sojourners’ article “Nothing Spontaneous About It.”)
I finally found a video of the Coptic leader’s speech (see below and transcript below that):
“In the Name of the One God that we all worship. This is a truly parting moment in the history of the land, in the history of our beloved Egypt. And this is the road map for the future path that was laid out by the general commander of the Armed Forces. In this road map, agreed upon by all those who attended, we have placed all the factors that guarantee a peaceful path for all Egyptians. This road map was created by loyal hearts and a strong love of the nation with a short and long-term vision for the future. This road map was placed by honorable people who want the benefit of the nation first and foremost, without excluding or distancing anyone. This road map was placed to solve the current situation in our dear land.
We, in Egypt have all gathered under the Egyptian flag, and this flag encompasses us all. It’s black color represents the people of the Nile Valley. The white color represents the youth and the purity of their hearts. The red color represents the sacrifices of the police force who offer and continue to offer themselves always to protect the internal front. In the midst of the flag, we see the yellow eagle who represents the armed forces which we see as the safety valves of this land. May Egypt live on and may all the Egyptians live in love and harmony, moving to every city square for the upholding of this land which deserves a lot from us. I thank your very much.”–Pope Tawadros II
The video below of an Egyptian poet spewing verse over Tahir Square in the middle of the “18 Days of Revolution” is a great example of poetry as a living art. Thanks to Hany and Omar Soliman for their work on this.
The Justice in You
by Kamal Abdel Halim (nickname is Sayed Karwata)
Justice in our country has its ministry
But you can’t find justice in the streets or neighborhoods
While you, Oppression, are in every street and neighborhood
Even though here there is no ministry for you
O Egypt, it seems like everything in you is being passed down in generations
from prostitution to slavery, even presidency comes with its heirs.
O Country, enough sin!
“Tawakkol Karman sat in front of her laptop, her Facebook page open, planning the next youth demonstration. Nearby were framed photos of her idols: the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. These days, though, Karman is most inspired by her peers. ‘Look at Egypt,’ she said with pride. ‘We will win.'”
When I read this in Sudarsan Raghavan‘s Washington Post article yesterday on Yemen’s women activists, I was reminded that America’s very best export is the civil rights movement.
There is an intellectual and spiritual lineage from the 20th century that is being played out on the streets of Cairo, Sanaa, Riyad, and elsewhere today.
In the 1850s, Russian aristocrat Leo Tolstoy became disgusted with violence after doing tours of duty in Chechnya and after seeing a public execution in Paris. His conversion toward nonviolence and Christianity led him to write The Kingdom of God Is Within You (published in 1894).
In 1908, Tolstoy wrote A Letter to the Hindoo laying out a plan for a massive nonviolent civil resistance campaign to free India from British imperialism. The letter fell into the hands of Mohandas Gandhi who was working as a lawyer in South Africa at the time and in the beginnings of becoming an activist. This prompted an exchange of letter between the two that was foundational for Gandhi’s nonviolent strategy. Gandhi listed Tolstoy’s seminal work The Kingdom of God is Within You as one of the top three influences on his life. He called Tolstoy “the greatest apostle of non-violence that the present age has produced.”
Less than 10 years after Gandhi was assassinated, a young American conscientious objector named James Lawson went as a Methodist missionary to Nagpur, India, where he studied satyagraha, the principles of nonviolence resistance that Mohandas Gandhi and his followers had developed.
In 1955, Lawson returned to the United States and was introduced to Martin Luther King Jr., who had also studied Gandhi’s principles of nonviolent resistance. King told Lawson to come South, telling him “Come now. We don’t have anyone like you down there.” Lawson began implementing large-scale strategic nonviolent civil resistance training that was deeply rooted in Christian faith and spiritual principles. The Civil Rights Movement in the United States became one the most massive civil resistance movements in U.S. history.
When Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, South African freedom leader Nelson Mandela was entering his fourth year of his life-sentence for “sabotage.” It took awhile for the news of King’s murder to reach Mandela in prison. Over the course of his 27 years in prison, Mandela studied deeply the work of Gandhi and King. Mandela was uncertain that the tactics of either would work in the South African context.
But the church leaders leading South African freedom movement outside of prison – particularly Archbishop Desmond Tutu – were highly motivated by both Gandhi and King. South Africa’s freedom struggle became known for taking the power of song to the streets. It became an image iconic of the freedom movement to hear South African children singing “We Shall Overcome” – an anthem of the American civil rights movement – and dancing the Toyi-toyi.
Thirty-one years after being imprisoned, Mandela was elected president of a free South Africa. Coretta Scott King was in the audience for Mandela’s acceptance speech as the new president. He looked at her and said: “This is one of the most important moments in the history of our country. I stand here before you filled with deep pride and joy–pride in the ordinary humble people of this country. You have shown such a calm patient determination to reclaim this country as your own, and now with joy we can loudly proclaim from the rooftops–Free at last! Free at last!” Mandela quoted the famous lines from Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream speech.
Somewhere in Yemen today, Tawakkol Karman is sitting in front of her laptop. She’s received death threats. She fears for the life of her three children. And she is determined to shatter perceptions of women in Yemen’s conservative society (and around the world), while emboldening a new generation of Yemenis to demand an end to President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 30-year grip on his country.
Inspired by civil resistance in Tunisia and Egypt, Karman said upon her release from detention, “We will continue this struggle and the Jasmine Revolution until the removal of this corrupt system that looted the wealth of the Yemenis” Karman spoke these words to hundreds of protesters who were demanding the release of other detainees.
Standing shoulder to shoulder with her are Martin Luther King Jr, Mohandas K. Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela. They’ve all been where she is now. They are cheering her on. And so are we.