A connection has been established between the Egyptian dissents and the Rev. Martin Luther King’s push for justice for African Americans in the 1950s and 1960s.
Black struggle was catalyst for Egypt’s mass protests
George E. Hardin
The recent events in Egypt confirm the value of mass demonstrations as a strategy for empowerment and political change. A connection has been established between the Egyptian dissents and the Rev. Martin Luther King’s push for justice for African Americans in the 1950s and 1960s. In Egypt the people arose in opposition to a despot who ruled with an iron fist. In the United States black Americans joined to protest discrimination in their own country. Both movements grew out of protracted discontent over the official abuse of power. In Egypt’s case, it was some 30 years of control by President Hosni Mubarak. In the U.S., it was more than 300 years of oppression, slavery, lynchings and segregation.
The gatherings in Cairo’s Tahrir Square began as a campaign against police brutality, in particular the fatal beating by police of a man suspected of distributing videos of police corruption. It broadened into a general discontent against government abuses.
This comic book, titled “The Montgomery Story”, recently translated into Arabic, is credited for imparting the format for the successful non-violent movement in Egypt. (Courtesy of NNPA)
Along with Wael Ghonim, whose Facebook and Twitter postings helped engineer the protests that led to President Mubarak’s resignation, credit is being given to a small publication, “The Montgomery Story,” extolling the benefits King’s of nonviolent protest strategy. The publication, in comic-book style for easier reading, tells the story of the Montgomery bus boycott that led to the end of segregated seating. It was translated first into Arabic and then Farsi and reprinted and distributed in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East. Adapting the strategy of nonviolent civil disobedience to their own purposes, the Egyptian activists set out to secure basic freedoms, to end human rights abuses and oppressive social conditions,
The Montgomery book was first printed in 1958 by the Fellowship of Reconciliation (founded in 1915) to depict how nonviolent civil disobedience can be effective.
As in the U.S., the Egyptian movement was largely promoted by youth—predominantly those in the 15 to 35 age group. The book was first translated by Dalia Ziada, 27, head of an American Islamic group. The strategy as described emboldened and inspired the activists as they came to realize that change is possible when a unified front is arrayed against one’s oppressors. Ziada praised the book “as contributing to the air of peaceful revolution in Egypt.”
King and the civil rights movement have motivated other freedom fighters throughout the world. Here at home the techniques of the civil rights movement were a catalyst for those advocating for women, children and gays to name a few. Even the anthem of the civil rights movement—“We Shall Overcome”—has been translated and sung around the world to rally for justice, proving that the cries of oppressed people everywhere mingle in the same chorus. The song’s memorable melody and moving lyrics have resounded in China, Latin America, Kosovo, Denmark, Bangkok, India and Africa.
King said in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1964: “Negroes in the United States, following the people of India, have demonstrated that nonviolence is not sterile passivity, but a powerful moral force which makes for social transformation. Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood.”
All people are entitled to certain rights merely because they are human beings, an idea that existed long before Thomas Jefferson outlined it in the Declaration of Independence. This concept was reaffirmed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adoted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1948. The document was viewed as necessary because of widespread outrage over the atrocities committed during World War II.
The United States has found that democracy is not exportable like a commodity. But the idea of freedom is likely to be imported by others if they labor under the yoke of oppression. That process is most effective when the people themselves, who are most affected, generate on their own the procedures necessary to improve the conditions under which they live.