There are not so many obvious connections between Egypt and Atlanta, yet there was one that some people have realized. That same connection may have wider tendrils than we recognize.
Egypt’s ruler fell not because of force of arms, nor even because of terrorism in the streets of Cairo. Instead, the fall came after a remarkable, relatively peaceful demonstration. There were protests in the streets, but largely subdued compared to what has been seen in violent overthrows in other countries.
The connection between Georgia and Egypt is what many throughout the world have learned from Dr. Martin Luther King: the non-violent approach to social — and governmental — change. Such an approach is revolutionary. Dr. King sometimes had virtually to hold back his own soldiers for the cause when they were brutally attacked, such as during the Selma march. Slowly, ever so slowly, Dr. King and his people began to make his non-violent message understood as more people in our country not only adopted his methods, but saw his program spread and thrive.
Now we recognize that Dr. King’s message did not limit itself to the borders of this country. Of course, Dr. King himself got much of his thrust from the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi of India. This approach has an universal appeal to those oppressed, whether of people in the former Soviet block, in dictator-led nations of Africa, or the Arab world, or in any country where people are ruled from on high. Peoples throughout the world began understanding the success of a non-violent approach to change.
So the 18 days of street protests in Egypt won victory through the protesters holding the lid on violence. What they were seeking was not just the overthrow of a governmental leader and his programs … but wanting to see their country move forward in a progressive manner, creating more freedom, and more than anything, more opportunity for the average Egyptian.
Over and over we are told that democracy may have its problems, but that it is a far better form of government than anyone else has devised.
That’s because what anchors democracy is not just picking its leaders through open and fair elections. The linchpin of democracy is far more than that. Democracy gives the individual a coveted position, one that allows the united efforts of individuals to pick their leaders in a free and open manner. Prior to any democratic election, a country must have free and open discussion of the qualities of the candidates before the individual person can intelligently cast his or her vote.
So what gives democracy its power is that the individual must exercise the power of freedom, and have the right to go up any legal path to determine how to cast that vote. Then, once candidates are in office, they must conduct the public’s business in an open and legal manner, or else face the wrath of the voter.
Given all this, we come back to one of our basic rights, as written in the 45 words of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which says:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Essentially, this is what happened in Egypt: a petitioning (through peaceful assembly), to redress grievances. It could not have happened without Egyptians adopting Dr. King’s approach. We applaud their approach and their success.