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Malcolm X, MLK, and the Egyptian Revolution of 2011

March 21, 2011

In Malcolm X’s “The Ballot or the Bullet” speech, he claims he does not necessarily advocate violence as the only solution to the civil rights issue.  He says that the ballot is a viable option as well, as long as the ballot is effective in representing the people and creating a change.  Only if the ballot is ineffective, he says, should people resort to the bullet.  However, it seems that Malcolm X has – either unintentionally or deliberately – failed to consider all possible solutions.

In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” MLK argues for a third option that Malcolm X has ignored – civil disobedience.  He claims that sit-ins and protests can create a great deal of tension, and that this will eventually force the government to negotiate with civil rights activists.  In this way, it is possible to achieve a nonviolent political change.

MLK’s course of action was perhaps more appropriate in that  situation, because activists were interested in changing only certain unjust laws, rather than overthrowing the entire system of government.  A violent approach might have been excessive and unnecessary.  But what about the recent events in Egypt?  Does the outcome of the Egyptian revolution support Malcolm X’s ideas, or MLK’s?  Did Egyptian activists choose the right course of action?

In January of 2011, a campaign of protests and civil disobedience began in Egypt.  The protests were initiated as an effort to pressure the former Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak to resign.  Protesters aimed to overthrow the government for a number reasons including corruption, economic grievances, and a lack of true democracy.  For the most part, the protests were peaceful, although there were some instances of violence.

Massive domonstrations in Cairo, Egypt

You can find out more about the revolution here!

This situation is interesting because it seems that neither MLK nor Malcolm X’s theories seem to fit with its outcome. The movement aimed to overthrow the Egyptian President and the entire system of government; and yet this end was achieved nonviolently. How could this have happened?

I think the best explanation is the sheer size of the movement. The movement in Egypt was incredibly powerful and intimidating because unlike the American civil rights protests, nearly the entire population participated. Even the military refused to enforce government policies, which made Mubarak completely powerless. If the population had been more divided, it seems that MLK’s peaceful strategy would be less successful and an armed revolution would be a better choice.

But, because of its united population, the Egyptian Revolution seems to have been incredibly successful. They were able to use nonviolent means – as advocated by MLK – to achieve a full-blown revolution, which seems to be the direction Malcolm X was headed in.

Have other ideas on why the revolution was successful? Opinions about Malcolm X’s and MLK’s beliefs? Other thinkers that are applicable to the situation? Share your opinion!

  1. jasonkraman permalink
    March 24, 2011 2:23 AM

    I think you bring up an interesting point and highlight how amazing it was that mostly peaceful protests brought about change in Egypt. However, I think the important thing was that there was always a threat of violence. Maybe they didn’t show up in protest with firearms but there was always the concern that if the protests went on for such a long time with no change, violence may be an option. I think this is the difference between the protesters in Egypt and MLK. MLK was never advocating violence, steadfast in peaceful protest. These people in Egypt wanted revolution enough that perhaps they would resort to violence. Sometimes the threat of something is just as powerful as the actual act of doing.

  2. vanesam permalink
    March 27, 2011 4:12 PM

    Wow! I think your post is really interesting and I never thought about the situation in this way. I definitely agree that the peaceful protests succeeded because of the amount of people who were involved, but I also think they succeeded because of the media influence and general changes in thinking that have taken place over the past couple of decades. During the Civil Rights Movement, the only real sources of media influence were the newspaper and radio, maybe the television. Currently, the internet encompasses all of these aspects of media transmission as well as many others, such as Facebook, which I heard was used by the younger generation to spread the word. The ability to spread the message and to show people the difficulties that they faced under their oppressive government meant support from around the world and not only did the people of Egypt rebel, but so did the whole watching world. Also, with the increase of communication has come a change in ideals, such as people of different races, ethnicity, religions, and beliefs all uniting for the same causes. During the Civil Rights Movement, not only was there a small portion of the population fighting for rights, but this small percentage of people was thought to be inferior by most others and these strict beliefs were hard to change. So although I do agree that the Egyptians achieved Malcolm X’s goal by MLK’s means, I also think that there are many other aspects that contributed to this dual-theory success.

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