February 16, 2011

Students learn about the youth-led movement and consider what it takes to act assertively to organize for change. They view and discuss a video relating Martin Luther King Jr.'s statements to events in Egypt.


Students will:
  • learn about Egypt and look at the mass protests that helped overthrow the man who had ruled Egypt for 30 years.
  • explore the notion of "power in numbers" in nonviolent conflict
  • watch a video that links the Egypt uprising to Dr. Martin Luther King's words on nonviolence
Social and Emotional Skills:
  • learning how to stand up to violence, oppression and injustice in nonviolent ways
  • learning that beyond "fight or flight" there is a third response: "assertive" which is active without being aggressive
  • learning about the power of cooperation
Materials needed:
  • Today's agenda on chart paper or on the board
  • Clip


(5 minutes)

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said "there is power in numbers and there is power in unity." In pairs ask your class to discuss this idea. 

Agenda and Introduction

(10 minutes)

Explain that in today's lesson you will be finding out about the kind of "nonviolent action" that took place in Egypt recently.
Start by asking if any of your students are aware of why Egypt has been in the news these past few weeks. Explain that Egypt is an important country in an area of the world we call the Middle or Near East. If you have a map in your classroom, point to this region of the world, which encompasses parts of Western Asia and North Africa. Egypt is the largest and most populous country in the Middle East. Ask if your students know of any other countries in the Middle East. Point them out on the map.
Egypt has a very old culture and civilization that students may have studied in elementary school. Ask them what they remember from those lessons and point to the ancient Egyptian rulers called Pharaohs and the pyramids that were built as tombs to protect the Pharaoh's body after death. Part of this protection was embalming dead bodies into mummies and your students may recall the various artifacts that were buried with Pharaoh for his journey to the afterlife. It is these artifacts that have allowed us to learn about ancient Egyptian culture in such detail. Finally, your students may have studied hieroglyphs, one of the oldest writing systems in the world. Through hieroglyphs, we've learned about ancient Egyptians' gods and goddesses, their mythology — as well as ancient Egyptian customs and daily life.
In recent weeks, we've been hearing the story of a modern day Pharaoh in Egypt - President Hosni Mubarak who has ruled Egypt for 30 years. As in ancient Egypt, any person or group that disagreed with the Egyptian ruler was considered a threat to the stability of the country. For decades, President Mubarak and his security forces used threats and violence to quash disagreement and opposition. In this way, the people of Egypt were scared into compliance and conformity. They were submissive despite their frustration and anger over the high levels of poverty and unemployment that many of them experienced. Meanwhile the President and his family amassed huge amounts of wealth through corruption and outright theft.
All this changed in the past few weeks, as the people of Egypt came into their own and discovered that there is power in numbers. They became assertive. They shared their grievances and anger, not through violence and aggression, but by going into the streets in large numbers, protesting the regime of President Hosni Mubarak in peaceful and very powerful ways. 

Aggressive, Submissive or Assertive

(15 minutes)
Most people, when faced with violence, either confront it with violence of their own or they turn away and try avoid the situation altogether. This old survival mechanism is known as the "fight or flight response." People may fight using aggressive means to try to get their needs met. They may also flee or give in, acting submissively, which may not result in getting their needs met. There is a third way though, an assertive response - and that's where nonviolent action comes in.
As your students can probably imagine, it is not easy to face threats and violence in an active and nonviolent way. It is for this reason that nonviolent action requires planning and careful coordination.
  • Ask if your students think it is possible to fight violence and injustice successfully using nonviolent actions.
  • Do they know the names Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mohandas Gandhi or Nelson Mandela?
  • What do they know about these people? What do the three have in common?
Explain that all three mobilized large groups of people to use nonviolent action successfully against violent and oppressive regimes. In Egypt, there was no one such leader of the resistance movement. Instead, several groups of youth activists decided they'd had enough —they decided to coordinate, organize and mobilize through social networking sites, reaching out and joining with others who were similarly frustrated with the Mubarak regime.
Then, towards the end of January, following successful nonviolent protests in Tunisia, young Egyptians courageously went out into the streets to assert their dissatisfaction in peaceful ways. Although not all the protesters agreed on their vision for Egypt's future, they all unified around one specific call: Mubarak must step down. These young people set a powerful example for the rest of the Egyptian people, many of whom were equally dissatisfied but had been afraid to speak out against the regime.
Realizing there was power in numbers - and some safety in numbers—increasingly more people were encouraged to join. Eventually the massive protests that resulted brought down the Mubarak regime on Friday, February 11, 2011.
People across the region and the world were amazed and inspired by what had happened.

Dr. Martin Luther King Encourages Egyptians 

(15 minutes)
Show the following 2:27 minute clip titled Dr. Martin Luther King Encourages Egyptians: 
Ask students to share their thoughts and discuss some or all of the following questions:
  • What did they think about the images?
  • What did they think about the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King?
  • What words of wisdom that Dr. King shared with the Egyptians resonated with you? Why?
  • Do you think Dr. Kings' words relate to what is happening in Egypt now - and in other Middle Eastern countries that are also rising up? How?
Discuss some of Dr. King's quotes from the clip (listed below):
On silence: 
- "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
- "In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends."
On non-violence: 
- "This is a nonviolent protest, we're defending our valor and spiritual forces."
- "I am convinced that the most potent weapon available to oppressed people as they struggle for freedom and justice is the weapon of nonviolence."
On justice and injustice: 
- "Injustice anywhere is a treat to justice everywhere"
On labor:
- "We are demanding that this city will respect the dignity of labor. So often we overlook the worth and the significance of those who are not in professional jobs, of those who are not in the so-called big jobs, but let me say to you tonight that whenever you are engaged in work that serves humanity and is for the building of humanity, it has dignity and it has worth."


(5 minutes)
Ask students:
If there is a message that you would like to share with the Egyptian people, what would it be?
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 at:,or to Morningside Center at: