Release, protest and working for democracy in Egypt

Jake Schwebach

The cocktail of a successful protest is tricky. What ingredients leave a lasting impression versus a sour taste?

No one has a more bitter taste in their mouths than Egypt. In 2011, they were the stage of a swift and vivacious movement toward freedom. Just three years later, Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi rode a coup d’etat, or military coup, into office. Democratically-elected president, Mohammed Morsi, was tried and imprisoned.


On Saturday, Egyptian courts, pressured by the new military rule, dropped the case against Hosni Mubarak, the man believed to give the order to kill protesters in 2011. To make matters worse, the same courts sentenced 188 protesters in support of Morsi to death this past Tuesday.

So what went wrong so fast? Shadi Hamid in the New York Times explained that presidents can easily consolidate power  “in young democracies with weak institutions.” Though, there has to be more to it than that?

In global democracy, Egypt was the new kid on the block. It was wrought with insecurity and a large pile of debt. Egypt’s road map to democracy was fuzzy, if not non-existent. They heard stories of democracy in far off neighborhoods, but lacked a good role model.

Democracy alone is too broad a term to found a modern nation on, especially one rich with Eastern traditions. It takes faith in words and ideas to install a new government. Their ethical code is very different than ours — not worse — but different. Egypt lacked that unifying voice. Their government was a poorly assembled toothpick model of democracy.

Let’s look at successful American movements. They all had one, succinct, underlying piece of rhetoric. American independence was organized under the writings of British philosopher John Locke. The civil rights movement of the mid-20th century was founded upon the words of Martin Luther King Junior and poets like Ginsberg, musicians like Bob Dylan. This speech inspired but also gave a clear blueprint for the future, like an IKEA shelf (did I just compare the civil rights movement to IKEA?).

So, what’s the next step for Egypt and neighboring countries? The social media platform is a good place to start. We already saw its effectiveness in organizing protests during the 2011 Egyptian movement. Social media was the wave of success Barack Obama rode into office in 2008. What the printing press was to 18th century democracy, social media is to 21st century democracy.

We know Egypt is capable of change through protest, so let’s inspire them through rhetoric, not just cheers and nods toward democracy.

Collegian Columnist Jake Schwebach can be reached at