Home > 2011 Egypt, April 6 Youth, El Baradei > Reuters Special Report: Inside the Egyptian revolution

Reuters Special Report: Inside the Egyptian revolution

Reuters, Apr 13, 2011, By Marwa Awad and Hugo Dixon

In early 2005, Cairo-based computer engineer Saad Bahaar was trawling the internet when he came across a trio of Egyptian expatriates who advocated the use of non-violent techniques to overthrow strongman Hosni Mubarak. Bahaar, then 32 and interested in politics and how Egypt might change, was intrigued by the idea. He contacted the group, lighting one of the fuses that would end in freedom in Tahrir Square six years later.

The three men he approached — Hisham Morsy, a physician, Wael Adel, a civil engineer by training, and Adel’s cousin Ahmed, a chemist — had all left Egypt for jobs in London.

Inspired by the way Serbian group Otpor had brought down Slobodan Milosevic through non-violent protests in 2000, the trio studied previous struggles. One of their favorite thinkers was Gene Sharp, a Boston-based academic who was heavily influenced by Mahatma Gandhi. The group had set up a webpage in 2004 to propagate civil disobedience ideas in Arabic.

At first, the three young Egyptians’ activities were purely theoretical. But in November 2005, Wael Adel came to Cairo to give a three-day training session on civil disobedience. In the audience were about 30 members of Kefaya, an anti-Mubarak protest group whose name means “enough” in Arabic. Kefaya had gained prominence during the September 2005 presidential elections which Mubarak won by a landslide. During these protests, they had been attacked by thugs and some women members had been stripped naked. Bahaar joined Adel on the course and his career as an underground trainer in non-violent activism was born.

Adel taught activists how to function within a decentralized network. Doing so would make it harder for the security services to snuff them out by arresting leaders. They were also instructed on how to maintain a disciplined non-violent approach in the face of police brutality, and how to win over bystanders.

“The third party, the bystander sitting on the fence, will join when he realizes that security forces’ use of violence is unwarranted,” Bahaar said in one of a series of interviews with Reuters. “Security will harass you to provoke an angry violent response to justify a repressive crackdown in the name of law and order. But you must avoid this trap.”

The process took time. As Wael Adel put it during an interview in a rundown Cairo cafe in March, there was a process of “trial and error” before Egypt’s non-violent warriors were strong enough to begin to take on a dictator.

Kefaya, for example, did run some more campaigns – including one for judicial independence in 2006. But it failed to stir mass protests or expand beyond the middle class elite. There was also internal disagreement between its younger activists and older politicians. By 2007, it had lost its momentum and many had quit.


In the meantime, the trio of thinkers had morphed into an organization called the Academy of Change — based in London and ultimately moving to Qatar. The Academy became a window for Egypt’s activists into civil disobedience movements outside the Arab world. To disseminate the new methods of resistance, it wrote books about nonviolent activism with a focus on the Arab world: “Civil Disobedience,” “Nonviolent War the 3rd Choice” and “AOC MindQuake” that were published in 2007.

A year later the Academy published “Shields to Protect Against Fear”, a manual on techniques to protect one’s body against attacks by security services during a protest. “The idea of non-violent protest is not martyrdom,” Adel said. “We knew to get ordinary Egyptians, and Arabs, to face their governments and security, they have to have tools to protect themselves. This boosts the morale and enthusiasm to go to the street.”

The ideas espoused by the Academy spread through Egypt. The calls for change reached industrial areas where large groups of workers have long suffered low wages and bad work conditions. Mounting economic hardship mobilized workers in the Nile Delta city of Mahalla El Kobra, home to the country’s biggest textile factory. The workers had been in contact with Kefaya activists and other independent labor activists. The groundwork for a sustained mass mobilization was being prepared.

The first real victory sprung from Mahalla in December 2006 when over 20,000 textile workers staged a six-day strike over unpaid bonuses. The protesters — peaceful but stubborn — confused police forces accustomed to clashing with disorganized crowds. The government offered concessions to avoid losses from a halt to production.

Then came a setback. In April 2008, workers in Mahalla went out on strike again, over rising prices. An online call by Kefaya’s former activist (Ahmed Maher) to support the Mahalla strike on fizzled out. Meanwhile, in Mahalla, the protest turned violent. Activists claim plain-clothes police destroyed public and police property and then blamed it on the protesters. Bloody clashes between police and Mahalla citizens lasted three days. Police fired live rounds and teargas, while enraged crowds threw rocks. At least three people were killed, hundreds were wounded and scores arrested.

More discipline was needed. Bahaar began to widen his efforts, traveling to disparate locations farther away from the capital to extend grassroots awareness of peaceful civil disobedience.

Meanwhile, ex-Kefaya activists formed the April 6 Facebook group, using the internet to gather supporters. The group adopted the Otpor clenched-fist logo and some members travelled to Serbia for civil disobedience training.


February 2010. Mohamed ElBaradei was back in Cairo. The former head of the International Atomic Energy Association and Nobel peace prize winner had inspired some of Egypt’s younger generation that change was possible. Several of them had created a Facebook page backing ElBaradei as the country’s next president. But how were they to achieve their goal given Mubarak’s repressive regime? They turned to the Academy for help.

The Academy directed them to its online training manuals, which the Facebook activists tried for a while. But despite their internet savvy, many felt that relying entirely on online training was too theoretical. Couldn’t the Academy give them practical training?

Enter Bahaar.

Those who had signed up to the Facebook page were divided into groups of 100. Bahaar trained eight of the groups in different parts of the country using, among other tools, PowerPoint presentations that explained how you maximize the power of a protest movement. Every protester had a family, and around the family was a wider community, Bahaar explained. If a protester was arrested or beaten by the police, his or her family might be radicalized. Similarly, if a policeman engaged in brutality, his family and social network might not be supportive. By maintaining disciplined non-violent activity, the regime’s power could be progressively weakened.

Why wasn’t Bahaar himself arrested? He says this was partly because he was working underground but also, he thinks, because the security services didn’t judge his non-violent approach a threat.

Al Shaheed

Others were not so lucky. Khaled Said, 28, was beaten to death by police in Alexandria, Egypt’s second-largest city, in June 2010. His family said he had posted a video showing police officers sharing the spoils of a drugs bust. Said’s body was barely recognizable and the act of brutality galvanized further protests — in particular, the anti-torture Facebook page “We are Khaled Said,” created by Google executive Wael Ghonim and underground activist AbdelRahman Mansour.

The page played a pivotal role in spreading non-violent strategies such as “flash mob” silent protests, where groups of people suddenly gather in a public place and do something unusual in unison for a short time before dispersing. Instructions for a nationwide “flash mob” were posted on the page. Participants were told to dress in black and arrive at specific locations in small groups to skirt the ban on large public gatherings. They formed single files along main roads with their backs turned to the street. After a certain hour they marched away.

“The Khaled Said page drew countless willing supporters, many apolitical, because its focus was ending human rights violations and that is an issue that affects all citizens. The page set gradual, easy-to-handle tasks. People felt safe and joined,” said Ahmed Saleh, one of the organizers working with the ElBaradei youth campaign and Khaled Said page.

Like Mahalla’s 2006 strike, the flash mob was a new type of protest unfamiliar to security forces. Its cadres were organized, civil, and well diffused across Egypt — and seemingly leaderless. The police didn’t know how to react. Participants were trained in non-violent techniques — both online, by the “Khaled Said” page founders, and on the ground, by Bahaar.


In late 2010, the Khaled Said page decided to call for something more ambitious — a nationwide march to demand the dissolution of parliament, the disbanding of the state security agency, seen by Egyptians as the state’s main arm of torture, and the resignation of the interior minister.

Watch The Great Deception 2011

The date chosen for mass action was January 25, Egypt’s national police day. Mansour — who was conscripted into the army on January 17 — posted the call for the nationwide march on December 28. Protesters were urged to march to Cairo’s Tahrir Square and other public spaces across the country. The page was not yet calling for Mubarak to go. It was Tunisia’s popular uprising, which reached its climax on January 14 with the ousting of President Zein El Abedine Ben Ali, which turned Egypt’s protests into an uprising.

The protest drew people of all ages and backgrounds. By 8 p.m. a unified, single chant inspired by Tunisia rang around Tahrir (Arabic for “freedom”) Square: “The people demand the fall of the regime.” By then, many understood at least a few of the tactics of non-violent disobedience. “You don’t need to train every single protester, only a small group of activists well connected with people in their local areas. Ideas spread like a virus,” says Bahaar.

Protesters conversed with riot police sent to cordon off the Square. The aim was simple: win over those in uniform. Women gave out food and biscuits to hungry conscripts and officers.

Young people quickly regrouped after being dispersed. Some climbed security personnel carriers to drag down officers firing teargas and water cannons, raising the crowd’s resolve to push security back and gain more ground. A pattern of whistling and rhythmic banging of stones on metal fences in Tahrir spontaneously developed when they needed to rally reinforcements to hold the fort. Protesters would also whistle to signal their success in forcing security to pull back.

Encouraged by the mass protests, the Khaled Said page posted a second online call for Friday, January 28, naming the event a “revolution” to overthrow the regime.

April 6 activists and youth from the Muslim Brotherhood formed the crucial front lines of protesters who broke security cordons and later faced attacks from pro-Mubarak loyalists. The youth of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s most organized opposition force whose members are accustomed to working within disciplined ranks, played a critical role in organizing activists into security teams to guard Tahrir Square’s multiple entrances. They searched those who came into the square for weapons or fluids that could be turned into Molotov cocktails. They wanted neither infiltrators nor supporters to turn to violence.

To help demonstrators hold true to non-violent resistance, the Academy posted online an eight-minute film covering similar ground to its 2008 manual. This explained how people could protect their chests and backs with makeshift shields made of plastic and thick cardboard, and how to mitigate the effect of teargas by covering their faces with handkerchiefs doused in vinegar, lemons or onions.

For the most part, people were having fun. They also took pride in their ownership of the square. Music was put on. Volunteers and protesters swept it, collected garbage and built outhouses.

“Non-violent action is not just about non-violence, but also about joy and happiness,” Adel said. “The festive atmosphere was a key element to drawing the high numbers that Egypt had rarely seen. People felt safe so they came out. They saw in Tahrir what Egypt could possibly be in the future and they wanted to be part of this new Egypt.”

The protests were not entirely peaceful. In particular, scuffles broke out after a group of thugs thought to have been organized by Mubarak’s henchmen charged through the square on horses and camels on February 2, beating and whipping protestors in what came to be known as the “Battle of the Camel”. Many demonstrators fought back, throwing stones at Mubarak loyalists to keep them from entering the square. But there was no wholesale riot and discipline returned.

“The key to a successful non-violent revolt is its ability to constantly reinvent and correct itself,” Adel says. “If violence or conflict breaks out, quickly resolve it while finding ways to avoid it.” Trained cadres shouted “peaceful, peaceful!” to restrain their hotter-headed colleagues. Soon after, the army, which had not been involved in the clashes, said it would not fire on unarmed civilians.

Nine days later Mubarak was gone.

Via Rueters

CAIRO | Wed Apr 13, 2011 10:21am EDT

  1. 14/04/2011 at 10:53

    الثورات فى الوطن العربى … ودور كوريا الجنوبية

    سوف ابدا هذه المقالة بمقولة شهيرة تقول “” اذا اردت ان تحجب على حقيقة ما وفر لها ظروف ” الوضوح التام ” حتى تحجبها “” ولقد لاحظ جميع القراء فى مقالاتى السابقة … اننى قمت بالتاكيد على انه كان فى هناك ايادى خفية فى ما حدث فى البلاد العربية فى الفترة الماضية … وحتى يخفوا اى دور لهم فى صنع هذه الثورات … فانهم صدروا الشباب للمشهد من خلال الفيس بوك حتى يظهر للعالم اجمع انهم لا دخل لهم فى ما يحدث فى الوطن العربى … وسوف اسرد بعض الحقائق المثبتة والموثقة اعلاميا والتى لا تحتمل اى شكل من اشكال اللبس … مع التاكيد على اننى سعيد جدا بسقوط الرئيس السابق محمد حسنى مبارك … ومع التاكيد على رغبتى فى سقوط رئيس ليبيا معمر القذافى وانهيار نظام حكمه بالكامل …!! ومع التاكيد ان كوريا الجنوبية هى دولة تابعة للولايات المتحدة الامريكية وهى معلومة معروفة للعالم اجمع …!!
    انا سوف اذكر حادثتين مهمين جدا جدا … وارجو من الاخوة القراء ان يربطوا بين هاتين الحادثتين …!!
    الحادثة الاولى … وهى القبض فى يوليو الماضى على جاسوسين من كوريا الجنوبية فى ليبيا … والجاسوسين كانوا بيعملوا كدبلوماسيين فى سفارة كوريا الجنوبية … وكانوا بيجمعوا معلومات عن معمر القذافى وابنه سيف الاسلام وعن قدرات ليبيا … وكانت فضيحة مدوية … لان الرئيس الليبى اجبر كوريا الجنوبية على الاعتراف رسميا بعملية التجسس … واجبرهم على دفع تعويضات …!! الى جانب انهم ارشدوا على الليبيين الذين تعاونوا معهم …!! وايضا الحكومة الليبية قبضت على اثنين من المنصرين الكوريين … ولابد ان اذكر هنا انه تم قتل و طرد عدة منصرين من كوريا الجنوبية من عدة دول عربية واسلامية مختلفة بعد اكتشاف انشطتهم المشبوهة مع المسلمين …!! فمابالكم بما يحدث على ارض كوريا الجنوبية نفسها مع المسلمين من تنصيرهم وتجنيدهم …!! وهذه اشياء انا شاهدتها بعينى هناك … ولابد من ذكر ان كوريا الجنوبية هى الدولة رقم 2 فى العالم فى التنصير والتبشير على الرغم ان المسيحية دخلتها حديثا …!!

    الحادثة الثانية … وهى ضبط شحنة مخدرات وحبوب هلوسة مقدارها 3500 كجم وارد كوريا الجنوبية فى طرد دبلوماسى قادمة الى مصر عبر البحر …!! وسوف اكرر الرقم … 3500 كجم … وهى اكبر شحنة مخدرات وحبوب فى تاريخ مصر كله … والخبر موجود ومنشور فى جريدة الاهرام المصرية فى فبراير الماضى … ولولا ان رئيس وزراء مصر السابق احمد شفيق وجهاز المخابرات العامة المصرية فرضوا قيود على السفارات الاجنبية واجراءات استثنائية كانت الشحنة دخلت مصر دون اكتشافها لانها كانت قادمة من البحر وفى طرد دبلوماسى …!! ولا ننسى دور حبوب الهلوسة وذكرها اكثر من مرة فى خطب القذافى … وعلى الرغم من ان القذافى غير متزن بطبعه لكنه كان صادق فى موضوع اغراق الشباب المسلم بحبوب الهلوسة من خلال مخطط غربى …!!

    لو ربطنا الحادثة الاولى مع الحادثة الثانية هانفهم حجم المؤامرة على الوطن العربى … وهانعرف ان المخطط الاصلى كان نشر الفوضى والفتنة فى الوطن العربى وتقسيمه تبعا لخطة برنارد لويس حول تقسيم الوطن العربى وخطة كونداليزا رايس حول الفوضى الخلاقة … ولكن بفضل الله وحوله وقوته … نجح الجيش المصرى فى الحفاظ على مصر وتحويل الفوضى التى ارادوا ان ينشروها الى ثورة 25 يناير المباركة … والتى سوف تعود على الوطن العربى كله بالخير ان شاء الله وليس على مصر وحدها …!!

    واخيرا … انا ادعو جميع اجهزة المخابرات الاسلامية لدراسة هذا الموضوع بتانى … وانا من جانبى سوف اطلق حملة جديدة على الفيس بوك لمقاومة التنصير والتجسس … وسوف اقوم بالاتصال مباشرا بجميع السفارات العربية والاسلامية الموجودة فى مصر وشرح الموقف لهم حتى يعيدوا النظر فى تعاملاتهم الاقتصادية مع كوريا الجنوبية وحتى ياخذوا حذرهم … وانا بالفعل ابلغت وزارة الخارجية المصرية … وكان لى الشرف ان انا اطلقت صفحة على الفيس بوك وحذرت عدة جهات اسلامية من ضمنها ليبيا قبل ان يقبضوا على هذا الجاسوس بثلاثة شهور … ولكن وللاسف تم غلق هذه الصفحة بطريقة خفية بعد اطلاقها بعدة اسابيع … وكان لى الشرف ان انا ارسلت ايميلات تحذيرية لسفارتنا فى كوريا الجنوبية ولعدة جهات مصرية قبل ان يتم التحفظ على شحنات مواد الهلوسة القادمة من كوريا الجنوبية باسبوع …!! وكتبت مقالة تحذيرية طويلة حول كوريا الجنوبية فى ديسمبر الماضى وتم نشرها فى عدة صحف عربية … وانا معايا الايميلات التى تؤكد ماذكرته وهذه الايميلات موثقة بالتواريخ ولقد قمت بتسليم نسخ منها بنفسى للخارجية المصرية …!! وشكرااااااااااا

  2. Ali Daoud
    28/10/2012 at 23:51

    Moslims always need a Lawrence of Arabia to lead them to slavery. They think westerners want them goodwill. They let themselves be led like cattle by Americans and zionists who use them to destroy their countries. Now Tunisia, Egypt and Libya have much more problems than they had! The Tunisians have lost the best PRESIDENT they ever had! He brought 7 millions of tourists, developped his economyy, teaching… Instead of thanking him they attacked him! And they brought ignorants to rule the country! What country does not have problems? Greece has economic problems now, but do the Greeks destroy their country or take weapons or put on bombs? The arab countries are not so poor; real poverty is in Tchad, Liberia, Rwanda… But Moslems do not thank GOD, they ignore satisfaction, they want always more and have become are gready as americans. Now Syrians are destroying their own country and the Israelis are laughing at them!

  1. 27/04/2011 at 01:39
  2. 27/04/2011 at 01:41
  3. 05/12/2011 at 15:22
  4. 12/12/2011 at 00:27
  5. 02/01/2012 at 00:20

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