Dr. Gene Sharp, who runs the Albert Einstein Institute for Non-Violent Struggles out of an unassuming apartment in East Boston, has for decades written the handbooks on how to overthrow oppressive regimes through non-violent means.
Nominated this year and three other times for the Noble Peace Prize, Sharp’s books have been translated into dozens of different languages and distributed across the globe and have inspired non-violent revolutions in China, Iran and most recently Egypt in 2011 during the Arab Spring.
Sharp was honored Tuesday for his work, which is widely recognized as a luminary in the development of the study and use of nonviolent action, by District Hall. District Hall, located in the Sea Port District of Boston is an organization dedicated to providing the innovation community with civic space to exchange ideas.
Sharp, who was nominated for the Nobel Paeace Prize again this year and previously nominated in 2013, 2012 and 2009 has written numerous books on the topic of non-violent struggle. His books have been translated into more than 45 languages and have been studied by activists, students, policy-makers, and others around the globe. Sharp has received global recognition and numerous international awards, including the Spirit of Gandhi Award, the El-Hibri Peace Education Prize, and the Right Livelihood Award.
In 2011 during the Egyptian Revolution, some said it was the ‘people power’ protests in Tunisia that set off the protests against the dictator there while others claim it was Facebook that made it easy for protesters to rally an entire country against Hosni Mubarak.
But there is one thing for certain, the writings of one humble East Bostonian shaped the future of Egypt for years to come.
“We are very pleased with what was for the most part a very peaceful demonstration against Mubarak’s rule,” said Sharp in a phone interview with the Times following the Arab Spring. “The people stayed strong and kept true to the theories of non-violent resistance and how it can change the political landscape of a country.”
One of the leaders of the movement in Egypt was 30-year-old civil engineer, Ahmed Maher who became active in political change in his country in 2005 and began the brigade ‘Youth for Change’. Maher and his colleagues who used blogging and social websites like Facebook, began reading about non-violent struggles and were inspired by the Serbian youth movement called Otpor. Otpor was able to oust the dictator Slobodan Milosovic and admitted that they relied heavily on the ideas from Sharp’s book ‘From Dictatorship to Democracy’.
Maher and his followers began to implement Sharp’s ideas in their own struggles for a democratically free Egypt.
Maher and a group of Egyptian expatriates living in Qatar under the name Academy of Change used Sharp’s work to set off protests in Cairo. One of the group’s leaders, Hisham Morsy, was arrested during those protests and put into detention before Mubarak’s regime was toppled last week.
The ever humble Sharp did not take direct responsibility for the events that unfolded in Egypt or even the demonstrations in Iran in 2009 when protesters used the tactics in his book ‘198 Methods of Nonviolent Action’ to peacefully protest what they felt was a fraudulent election that kept Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in power over Iranian reformist Mir-Hossein Mousavi.
“It’s up to the people to protests an oppressive government,” said Sharp. “Each situation is unique and we simply provide the tools and ideas on how a non-violent struggle can work.”
At the time Sharp praised the Egyptian people for not giving into Mubarak and negotiating with his regime.
“Sometimes the people get sucked into negotiations and the outcome usually favors those in power,” Sharp explained. “The Egyptian people did a good job of staying strong throughout the struggle until real political change was accomplished.”
When Mubarak’s grip on Egypt began to wane, Mubarak began to call for negotiations and vowed not to run for reelection once his term was up. This was rejected by the Egyptian people who, it seemed, used an entire chapter from Sharp’s book ‘From Dictatorship to Democracy’ that warned about negotiating with men like Mubarak as a tactical mistake during a struggle for democracy.
In his book Sharp writes that ‘The offer by a dictatorship of “peace” through negotiations with the democratic opposition is, of course, rather disingenuous. The violence could be ended immediately by the dictators themselves, if only they would stop waging war on their own people. They could at their own initiative without any bargaining restore respect for human dignity and rights, free political prisoners, end torture, halt military operations, withdraw from the government, and apologize to the people’.
Sharp continues that ‘when the dictatorship is strong but an irritating resistance exists, the dictators may wish to negotiate the opposition into surrender under the guise of making “peace.” The call to negotiate can sound appealing, but grave dangers can be lurking within the negotiating room’.
Sharp said that ‘when the opposition is exceptionally strong and the dictatorship is genuinely threatened, the dictators may seek negotiations in order to salvage as much of their control or wealth as possible. In neither case should the democrats help the dictators achieve their goals’.
In the case of Mubarak, Sharp said the only way the people could win was to have him out of the picture and open and honest elections to take place in the country.
“The constitution has been dissolved and the parliament there has been disbanded,” said Sharp. “These would not have been accomplished if Mubarak was able to stay in power for these were tools that made his dictatorship perfectly legal in Egypt.”