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Submitted by Anna Bartlett on Fri, 04/22/2011 - 12:14pm.
Recruiting volunteers at Cairo University for a new voter-education campaign.
The American Islamic Congress (AIC), UUSC's partner in Egypt, recently launched a daring and innovative voter-education campaign to get the youth of Egypt ready for the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections this summer and fall. It's an exciting and uncertain time in Egypt as many people have never voted in an election and are unsure how to engage in the political process. But it's critical to the success of the democratic transition that the civic-knowledge gap be closed quickly and that Egypt builds a diverse and engaged voting population.
Fahem Haqi, translated into English as "I know my rights," is the name of the new campaign. Through the rest of the spring and into the summer, young volunteers will be trained on civil rights, voting rights, the Egyptian constitution, and election monitoring — and, more importantly, they'll also be trained to educate and engage other citizens on these critical democratic processes in their own community.
AIC has hit the ground running and has already begun to recruit volunteers. They will begin the training shortly. The photo (above, right) shows one of the volunteer-recruiting events that recently took place on the campus of Cairo University. Take a look at the recruiting video they produced in conjunction with the Arab Initiative for Online Media.
Submitted by Bill Schulz on Mon, 02/14/2011 - 5:32pm.
The following post, "Revelations from the Revolution: Tough Lessons for Human Rights," by UUSC President William F. Schulz, was published in the Huffington Post on February 17, 2011.
The human-rights community has been applauding the news from Cairo as vigorously as everyone else. Cause alone for celebration is the prospect that the 30-year-old emergency decree under which so many Egyptian were detained without trial might be a thing of the past. No one knows for sure that human rights will flourish under a new government, which is why Ken Roth, head of Human Rights Watch, appropriately warned, "It's not enough for the Egyptian authorities to remove the dictator while maintaining the dictatorship." Early signs are promising, however, that the military has gotten the message.
But the euphoria ought not blind us to a number of important lessons for human rights that the revolution signaled. Some of these are obvious. Despite Malcolm Gladwell's desperate effort in the New Yorker to downplay the importance of social networking to breathtaking political change, the revolution would have been a lot more difficult without Facebook, Twitter, and texting. The Mubarak government proved this point decisively when it shut down the Internet. For all its drawbacks, as described, for example, in Evgeny Morosov's new book The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom, online communications are making it harder and harder for authoritarian governments to maintain control over a disillusioned population. True, those same governments can also turn social networking to their advantage, as Iran did by using it to identify and then silence dissenters. But that is no more testimony to the "evils" or limitations of Internet connections than the fact that the genocidiares in Rwanda in 1994 used the airwaves to rally Hutus to mass murder is an indictment of the radio. Those who care about democracy and human rights could do much worse than to redouble their efforts to spread online technology and protect internet freedom.
Other lessons may be more difficult for human-rights advocates to stomach, however. Here are five of them:
George W. Bush was half right. Though Iraq was in no way the inspiration for the Egyptian revolt, Tunisia certainly was. To the extent that Bush theorized that a democratic foothold in the Middle East might spark other countries to follow suit, he was right. He just failed to realize that genuine revolutions are homegrown, not foreign-imposed.
Democracy is necessary, if not sufficient, to safeguard human rights. Sounds obvious, but no doubt because freedom was Bush's mantra and because democracy is no guarantee that a government will respect human rights, human-rights organizations have resisted jumping in bed with the democracy-promotion mavens. But it's hard to imagine that Egypt, or anywhere else for that matter, has a shot at a reputable human-rights record without getting democracy in place at the same time.
But not all democracies are the same. We in the West tend to have a pretty rigid template for what constitutes democracy: competitive elections, surely, but also a variety of other conditions from religious pluralism to virtually unlimited speech. Egyptian democracy may not look like that, particularly if it incorporates both Islamic and secularist interests, and yet it may still be worthy of the name "democratic." Good to remember that making cookies requires both cookie cutters and mixers.
The military makes the difference. It takes nothing away from the courage and persistence of the protestors to acknowledge that in both Tunisia and Egypt, it was the military's refusal to turn on the people that ultimately guaranteed the success of the revolution. Just the opposite happened in Iran. With the exception of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard, most human-rights institutions have tended to keep their distance from militaries, foreign or domestic. (After all, militaries have historically been among the worst human-rights violators.) But that view is shortsighted. We may never know whether the extensive U.S. contact with the Egyptian military played a decisive role in its moderation, but interaction between human-rights defenders and security officials ought to be elevated to a higher place in the human-rights agenda.
Much is beyond our control. To the extent that the recent revolutions were a result of demographics (lots of young people), economics (lots of unemployment), and the weather (lots of warmth that allowed for protracted demonstrations), those factors are beyond the control of human-rights defenders. The best we can do is nurture the soil in the form of things like training in nonviolent social change and the maintenance of international pressure. But, as the little bird said to the farmer who found him lying with his feet straight up in the air and asked what he was doing, "I've heard the sky is falling." "If it is," said the farmer, "what good will your two little measly feet do?" "Well," replied the bird, "one does what one can. One does what we can." Every once in awhile with a lot of help from a lot of people, that's enough to make a revolution.
William F. Schulz, former executive director of Amnesty International USA, is president of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee.
Submitted by Shelley Moskowitz on Fri, 02/11/2011 - 1:29pm.
February 11 is truly an auspicious day. After nearly three weeks of nonviolent pro-democracy protests, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has resigned today, bringing a peaceful end to his repressive 30-year reign. The announcement has led to jubilant celebrations throughout Cairo and sent a powerful message to oppressive rulers across the globe.
This is not the first time such transformative events have happened on February 11 — it was on this day in 1990 that anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela walked out of the Victor Verster Prison in South Africa as a free man. On that day, after 27 years of unjust imprisonment, Mandela delivered a speech to his jubilant supporters that began with these simple words: "I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy, and freedom for all." He closed his speech by reiterating his cherished belief in "the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.'"
Today, I hope Nelson Mandela, now in his nineties and in faltering health, is smiling as he watches the live streaming video from Egypt on this auspicious anniversary.
Submitted by Anna Bartlett on Fri, 02/11/2011 - 11:22am.
Well, you got one.
Now is the time to celebrate. The most well-organized, committed, passionate, and pro-rights movement in recent history just accomplished what a mere month ago would have seemed impossible — Mubarak is gone. He was forced out by people who were tired of living in fear, tired of not being able to speak out, tired of being denied the human rights they're entitled to.
It's easy to be hyperbolic at a time like this, but it's also true that we're witnessing history. We're entering a new era — a new era of global politics, of activism, of civil rights, and of the Internet. In the coming days, we're going to hear a lot about the impact of the events in Egypt, the role of social media, and the mountain of work that still remains for the Egyptian people to do. But when something of this magnitude happens, it's important to take the time to celebrate. This is a monumental accomplishment and the people involved deserve to take a moment to bask in the glory of accomplishment.
Not only did the protesters force a brutal and out-of-touch dictator from office, but they did it with nonviolent civil action, an unimaginable amount of passion, and sheer guts. If that's not revolutionary, I don't know what is.
Submitted by Kara Smith on Fri, 02/04/2011 - 12:15pm.
Last night, in a symbolic gesture of support for the people of Egypt, the Senate passed a resolution put forth by John Kerry and John McCain that "ensures that the United States assistance to the Egyptian Government, military, and people will advance the goal of ensuring the respect for the universal rights of the Egyptian people."
In support of the millions of peaceful protesters calling for new government leadership, the Senate's resolution, among other things, calls for President Mubarak to begin transitioning immediately and for the government and the military to protect the rights of its citizens.
While this is not binding legislation, it is a power gesture of support to the crowds of protesters amassing in Cairo today for what they are calling the "Friday of Departure," which marks the 11th day of demonstrations in Egypt. This resolution recognizes the right of the people of Egypt to have a "representative and responsive democratic government" that protects their civil liberties. It also condemns any violent actions made against protesters.
Many activists in the United States have wondered how their actions can make a difference for the people of Egypt — this is one way. The support that you have shown for the people of Egypt made it necessary for our Senate to act. We urge you to continue to show your support and stand eye to eye with the people of Egypt.
Submitted by Jessica Atcheson on Thu, 02/03/2011 - 9:37am.
Along with so many others, I've been riveted by the coverage of the mass protests in Egypt and horrified by the crackdown on human rights exhibited there even over the past week. But to be honest, I haven't been quite sure why it is all happening. I've had a vague idea that the people of Egypt have been oppressed and denied their full measure of rights, but if you asked me for specific examples, I might only be able to name what I've seen of the lack of free speech and open communication channels.
This morning on my way to work, though, I got the Egypt 101 course courtesy of the Breakdown, a weekly podcast with Chris Hayes from the Nation. In the most recent special edition of the Breakdown, "Why Is Egypt in Revolt?" Hayes speaks with professor of twentieth-century Egyptian history Noor Khan from Colgate University about the context of the protests in Egypt.
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Khan has also written a short — and incredibly informative — primer on Egypt now. It lays out clearly the modern historical background and the many manifestations of oppression that the people of Egypt have endured.
So, why are the people protesting? As Khan lays it out:
- "Democracy" has been just a word
- Police torture (see "We are all Khaled Said" on Facebook for more)
- Bureaucratic inefficiency
There is so much background, detail, and nuance to each of these — but it's good to have a first step toward understanding on a new level why the people of Egypt are out on the streets, raising their voices and asserting their rights.
- "'Work on Him Until He Confesses': Impunity for Torture in Egypt," a Human Rights Watch report
- "It's More Than Mubarak: The Legacy of Torture in Egypt," by Carolyn Barnett, Policymic.com
Submitted by Kara Smith on Thu, 02/03/2011 - 8:19am.
"What would you do if someone hit you, kicked you, or spit on you?"
This was one of the questions that trainers asked protesters as they prepared for protests in Selma, Ala., on March 7, 1965 — "Bloody Sunday." They had to ask this because they knew what they would be facing — billy clubs, beatings, and tear gas — as they marched from Selma to Montgomery to demand the right to vote.
As I watched a video of anti-Mubarak protesters in Egypt praying as water cannons and tear gas were shot at them, I could not help but think of the iconic footage of the civil-rights movement — 600 marchers trying to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge, confronted by the brutality of local lawmen.
The practice of nonviolent resistance was not used because it is easy; it was used because it is an effective tactic. The organizers of the civil-rights movement in the United States knew that violence would divert them from their political goal and that their non-retaliatory actions would accrue support from participants and the society at large. The organizers also knew that the effectiveness of their nonviolent actions would incite more violence by those in power as they began to see the inevitability of political change in this country.
Those protesting the current political structure in Egypt are standing at a similar precipice. Mubarak supporters have begun throwing Molotov cocktails and riding through crowds on horse- and camelback armed with whips and sticks. They know that the political tide is turning against them and that the world is standing in solidarity with the peaceful protesters.
So the question again is, "What will you do in the face of violence?" Honestly, I am not sure what I would do. What I do know is that nonviolence is an effective tactic for political change — political change that the people of Egypt deserve.
With funding and support from UUSC, Hands Across the Mideast Support Alliance (HAMSA) translated into Arabic The Montgomery Story [PDF], a 1958 comic book about the U.S. civil-rights movement and nonviolence. Referring to the protests in Egypt, Nasser Weddady of HAMSA recently told UUSC, "This is their Birmingham; this is their own civil-rights movement." As this struggle continues to escalate, we know that it will not be won without sacrifice and loss — but it is a fight that they will win.
To the protestors in Egypt: please do not let those who do seek to oppress you steer you from your path of nonviolent protest.
"Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals." —Martin Luther King Jr.
واللاعنف هي قوى وعادلة دون قطع السلاح الذي جرح رجل كان وجودا حيث. فمن يداوي سيفا. —Martin Luther King Jr.
As you stand strong, we stand in solidarity with you.
Submitted by Anna Bartlett on Tue, 02/01/2011 - 2:18pm.
Much has been made about the role of social media in the recent political uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, and elsewhere across the Middle East and North Africa. But it's important to remember that, while these are powerful tools for messaging, organizing, and sending out information, they must be backed up by people willing to do the hard work of standing up for their rights.
It wasn't a tweet that began the mass protests in Tunisia, is was a young man who tragically took his own life in protest over the abysmal economic and political restrictions in his country that left him feeling trapped, with no other way to express his discontent other than self-immolation. It was that act that sparked what had been smoldering for decades amongst people who longed to live free of oppression and fear and have a say in the role of government in their lives. People began taking to the streets out of their own sense of righteousness — not because something was trending on Twitter.
But it is also true that the Internet has provided a pivotal role in these uprisings. Without Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube capturing the words and images of the street protests, the rest of the world may not have understood so easily the scope of the protests. Without an Internet connection, how many people would have been able to see the now-famous images of peaceful protesters being met with water cannons and tanks on the Qasr al-Nil Bridge?
Social media is a powerful tool for activists, but it is not the only tool. The Internet has been shut down in Egypt since last Thursday, yet the protesters' efforts only continue to grow. The question now becomes: how can we continue to use these tools in new and effective ways to ensure that those who have worked so hard for positive change are able to finally achieve their goals?
Check out these related news items:
- Nasser Weddady, from UUSC partner the Hands Across the Mideast Support Alliance, discusses the role of social media in the Egyptian uprisings (CNN video).
- Google creates Twitter workaround to enable Egyptians to post (Reuters).