Behind the Egyptian Uprising: A STRATEGIC YOUTH MOVEMENT

February 15, 2011

High school students read and discuss an article describing the role of the youth movement and consider quotes from Gandhi on the power of nonviolence.


(5 minutes)

Read out loud the following quotes by Mohandas Gandhi, several times if necessary. (You might remind students that Gandhi helped India achieve its independence in 1947 through mass civil disobedience.)

  • "Nonviolence alone can lead to democracy." 
  • "The states that are today nominally democratic have either to become frankly totalitarian or, if they are to become truly democratic, they must become courageously nonviolent."

Ask students if they have comments or questions about this quote.

Then ask: What do you think is courageous about nonviolent resistance?

Explain that in today's lesson we'll be considering this question as we learn about the Egyptian youth movement that has dramatically changed the face of the Middle East by bringing down the regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. 


Agenda and Introduction 

(5 minutes)

Ask students what they know about the events that have taken place in Egypt over the past three weeks. (See earlier TeachableMoment lessons on the Egypt uprising for some of this background: US Policy toward Egypt: A Dialogue and Egypt Uprising: Power in Numbers.

Elicit and explain that in a mere 18 days of nonviolent protest, the people of Egypt forced out of office the highly unpopular president of their country, Hosni Mubarak. He had been in power for 30 years and was reluctantly escorted out of Cairo by the Egyptian military on February 11, 2011.

These events have rocked the world, and have already had a sweeping effect across the Arab world and beyond. In today's lesson we'll take a look behind the scenes of this powerful uprising, which was driven in part by a youth movement that courageously took a stand, mobilizing the Egyptian people to end an authoritarian regime--nonviolently.


How Cyber-Pragmatism Brought Down Mubarak 

(35 minutes)

In an article published in The Nation on February 11, 2011, journalist Sam Graham-Felsen writes about the youth movement that helped bring down former President Hosni Mubarak:

Ask your students to read the article individually in silence (10 minutes).

Then, have students break into small groups of three or four for a "microlab" (10 minutes). Ask students in each group to discuss Graham-Felsen's opening question:

"What caused the uprising in Egypt that swiftly brought down Mubarak's thirty-year-old regime?"

Reconvene the full class and discuss with students some or all of the following questions:

  • What did they think of the article?
  • What did they learn about the movement that brought down President Mubarak?
  • Besides the oppressive conditions (like poverty, unemployment and human rights abuse) that caused intense frustration and anger among Egyptians, and the social media that allowed young Egyptian activists to get together and mobilize, what ultimately set this nonviolent revolution into motion, according to Sam Graham-Felsen?
  • What are some of the qualities the youth organizers Graham-Felsen describes?

Elicit and point to qualities like bravery, patience, hope, hard work, persistence, being knowledgeable and being prepared. Make sure to emphasize that the organizers were above all strategic and disciplined in their approach.

  • What was so important about the youth organizers' discipline and strategic approach?
  • What different tactics did they use to reach, educate and mobilize different groups of people?



(5 minutes)

Ask a student to reread the last two paragraphs of Graham-Felsen's article out loud:

"It's worth taking a step back to consider that for most ordinary people living under repressive regimes, nonviolent public protest is an absurd, laughable notion. The risk of being beaten, jailed, tortured or killed-as many Egyptian human rights activists have been over the past three decades-is terrifying. The only way a street protest becomes a remotely tenable proposition is if you know that you're not alone-that many, many people not only share your anger but share your desire to do something about it. And when you see that your fellow protesters have a plan-that they are knowledgeable, organized and prepared-it gives you the confidence that your participation won't be in vain. This is why the "We Are All Khaled Said" page-and the online organizing through private Facebook messages, e-mail list serves and Google Docs that sprung out of it-was so important for first-time activists.

"When these young activists took their collective confidence into the streets-in numbers that hadn't been seen for decades in Egypt-they showed that nonviolent mass mobilization was possible. Only then did the hundreds of thousands of older and non-connected Egyptians, who silently shared their grievances all along, feel compelled to act, too."

Many people's first inclination is to think of nonviolence as passive and weak. Ask a few volunteers to share their thoughts about this.

End the lesson with another Gandhi quote:

"Nonviolent resistance implies the very opposite of weakness. Defiance combined with non-retaliatory acceptance of repression from one's opponents is active, not passive. It requires strength, and there is nothing automatic or intuitive about the resoluteness required for using non-violent methods in political struggle and the quest for truth."




This lesson was written for TeachableMoment by Marieke van Woerkom, a trainer and global facilitator who works as a staff developer for Morningside Center.

We welcome your comments. Please email them to Marieke,or to Morningside Center