Egyptian Uprising: Power in Numbers

February 3, 2011

Students read two news stories about the protests in Egypt and consider the players and their roles.


(5 minutes)

"There is power in numbers and there is power in unity." 
—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Ask students to break into pairs to discuss this idea. If they are aware of the recent protests in the Arab world, ask them to consider how King's statement relates to those events.


Introduction and Background 

(10 minutes)

Elicit and explain that in the North African Arab nation of Tunisia, mass street demonstrations were sparked when a street vendor named Muhammad Bouazizi set himself on fire on December 15, 2010. He was protesting humiliation and oppression at the hands of local government officials.

Bouazizi's act became the catalyst for a Tunisian uprising that ultimately led to the ouster of President Zine El Abindine Ben Ali, an unpopular leader considered to be out of touch with the people. A mere 28 days after the start of protests, the Tunisian president officially resigned and fled to Saudi Arabia, ending his 23 years in power.

The events in Tunisia inspired similar actions across the Arab world, most notably in Egypt, Yemen, Algeria and Jordan, where decades of smoldering grievances against the various corrupt and oppressive regimes were ignited.

Today's lesson will focus on events in Egypt, the most populous of Arab nations. Egypt is often seen as a leader of the Arab world, and has long received major financial support from the U.S. government.

Over the past week, tens of thousands of people from all walks of Egyptian life took to the streets peacefully, calling for their president, Hosni Mubarak, to step down and demanding democratic elections.

Although the protests may have sprung up spontaneously, reports point to behind-the- scenes coordination and strategizing by a tech-savvy youth leadership. These leaders appear to have kept the protests going and helped them to grow stronger. What's more it seems this leadership has begun to build some new alliances that would have been hard to imagine a mere two weeks ago.


Two New York Times stories 

(30 minutes)

Give students about 10 minutes to read two articles about the uprising:

Instruct half of your class to read this New York Times piece (quietly) by Anthony Shadid and David D. Kirkpatrick (January 31, 2011): "Opposition Rallies to ElBaradei as Military Reinforces in Cairo."

Have the other half to read a second New York Times article, this one by David D. Kirkpatrick and Mona El-Naggar (January 30, 2011): "Protest's Old Guard Falls In Behind the Young."

In reading the articles, ask students to pay specific attention to the various parties described as being involved in the recent events across Egypt.

Large group debrief

Having read one of two articles ask students to discuss some or all of the following questions:

1. What stood out for students about these articles?

2. Who are the parties involved in the events in Egypt this past week?

Chart the parties, making sure to include:

  • President Hosni Mubarak (and his government)
  • the police and security forces
  • the military
  • young protest organizers
  • old political guard/opposition parties
  • the U.S. (and the West) 
  • the protesters themselves - ordinary Egyptians who may have been unhappy with their regime for a long time, but only recently came into their power by coming together in street protests.

3. What role have the different parties played in the events in Egypt this past week?

4. According to these articles, what are the strengths of each of these parties?

5. Several new political alliances and coalitions have come together in Egypt over the past week. Which of the parties on the chart have recently sought each other out to work together? Why do you think they've sought each other out?

6. What role have the security forces and police played in the protests so far? Whose side do they appear to be on?

7. What role has the military played in the protests so far? Whose side do they appear to be on?

8. Why has Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei been chosen to represent the opposition movement according to the articles?

9. What are the protesters' demands? Who has represented the voice of the protesters so far?

10. What strategy is being encouraged by the opposition to show faith and trust in the soldiers? Why do you think they are doing this?

11. What other tactics are being considered to keep the movement going in the future?

12. How would you describe the U.S.'s role in Egypt until now? How would you describe its role since the protests began? Has the role changed? If so, how and why? If you don't know the answers, how could you find out?


(2 minutes)

Return to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s quote at the start of this lesson: "There is power in numbers and there is power in unity. " Ask a few volunteers to share what they learned today.



This lesson was written 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 at:, or to Morningside Center