Malcolm X, MLK, and the Egyptian Revolution of 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.
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!