Thursday, July 14, 2011

Egyptian Protests and Lessons on Waging Peace

If the average American looked deep enough into their newspaper today, they may have thought they were experiencing déjà vu. For, hidden amongst talks of national debt, a war in Libya, and debates about the future of nuclear energy is a rather peculiar story about Egypt. Nearly six months after the fall of Hosni Mubarak, Egyptians have returned to Tahrir square in droves to protest. For them, the government has not done enough to protect the rights of its citizens or bring justice to oppressors.

There is a lot we can learn from this move. While many Americans are disaffected by how little changes in the United States, Egyptians are reminding us of so many lessons we have forgotten. As Egyptians are becoming the masters of waging peace, here are five lessons we can carry away from their success:

1. Prepare and Educate

When protests were first being organized in Tahrir Square, one of the biggest challenges was getting people out. Not only did some fear being attacked by the government for protesting, many others were faced with daily indoctrination by state-run news.

To resolve these issues, organizers of the protests had to prepare. Months in advance, these protesters spent countless hours gathering support, spreading the message, and hyping the protests. They passed along messages and videos that were based in factual evidence with proof that the government was lying, the press was lying, and that Egyptian rights were being repressed.

When the protests started, many organizers spent time pushing intelligent leaders to the front of the movement to drive the message. Mohamed ElBaradei was one such leader. Others spent time educating protesters about democracy, rule of law, and checks and balances. Today, if you go to the protesters at Tahrir square, a tent sits in the middle of the protests filled with books and digital literature on democracy and law.

Today, peace leaders have failed to gain this sort of traction. Instead of focusing on facts and spending a good amount of time preparing, peace movements all too often resort to emotion and partisan politics.

2. Remain Persistent

The average protest in the United States lasts one day. Organizers send out invitations, rent space, hire bands and speakers, and chant their message from outside the Capitol. At the end of a few hours, everybody packs up and returns home.

Egyptians proved that their cause mattered to them by remaining persistent. It took less than 1% of the population just 18 days to peacefully bring down a dictator who controlled their country for 30 years. Their persistence didn’t stop there, either. When the interim government refused to lift emergency law, protesters returned to the streets. When that same government banned protests, the people protested even more. Now, when they fail to prosecute those who committed crimes in the Mubarak regime, Egyptians turned out to the streets with every intent of staying until their needs are met.

Today, it would be newsworthy if an American protest lasted longer than a weekend.

3. Control the Message

One of the biggest failures of people fighting for a cause is controlling their message. Interested in gaining numbers, we oftentimes allow for more radical and extreme elements to enter our movements and make some noise. This destroys the peace movement’s credibility.

Egyptians were faced with the exact same problem. As they drove back the police and took control of Cairo for the people, several renegades began ransacking shops and vandalizing the city. The protesters, knowing Mubarak would try and paint their movement as violent and unruly to justify his crackdown, responded firmly. They set up an ad hoc policing system where vandals and thieves were put under citizen’s arrest and placed in makeshift jails. Regular citizens took turns guarding prisoners. Once order was restored and Mubarak had been ousted, the prisoners were freed and protesters spent several days sweeping the streets and cleaning the city.

The protests in Tahrir square today have become even more impressive. Organizers have blocked off the square from traffic and set up checkpoints at each end. When someone wishes to join the protest, they are searched for weapons, drugs, stolen goods, and contraband. A media tent has been established where reporters are welcome to come and gain insight from the organizers and interview individuals representative of the protest’s message.

4. Be Results-Driven

There is only one thing that matters when a protest organizes, and that is results. However, protests today seem to be deemed successes by an entirely different variable: numbers. In a world of satellites and statistics, opposing viewpoints are declared victors solely on how many people come to their rally. And, of course, nothing changes.

The Egyptian protesters are results-driven. Big numbers might get media attention, but a lack of attention hasn’t prevented Egyptians from creating real and effective change. As the government realizes how little it can do without the will of the people and gives concessions, the Egyptians only grow more confident that they can receive everything they deserve.


Do Americans have the capacity to return to our roots of waging peace? Do we have the will to make our needs heard? The answer seems to be a resounding “yes,” for, in a microcosm of what is going on in Egypt, the citizens of Wisconsin displayed many of the above qualities to fight for their rights. Peace warriors should take heed of this development and strive to implement these very policies elsewhere.

All of these qualities are what it takes to be an effective peace warrior. Each leads to more results, and each leads to greater confidence and results. As one protester put it: “We don’t request anymore: we give orders.”

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