UMass Boston Professors Teach the Egyptian Uprisings in Real Time
February 18, 2011
The world watched with a mix of excitement, interest, and anxiety as close to 20,000 protestors poured into the streets of Egypt on January 25.
These protestors, motivated by a recent uprising in Tunisia and a call to mobilize on social media sites, made demands for a higher minimum wage, government reform, an end to police brutality, and the immediate resignation of President Hosni Mubarak. Eighteen days later, Mubarak had stepped down from power and the army promised constitutional changes.
At UMass Boston, professors and students alike have followed these movements, incorporating the events of the past month into classroom conversations, lectures, and round table discussions. Associate Professor of Political Science Jalal Alamgir wrote a piece in the Huffington Post on how America should react to these uprisings. UMass Boston student Ena El-Hadidy, a native of Egypt, was interviewed by WBUR's Radio Boston on watching her country's protests from afar.
Last week, the Political Science Department sponsored a round table discussion, "Understanding Popular Revolt in Tunisia and Egypt," in the Campus Center.
Close to 100 students and faculty members gathered to hear Associate Professor of Political Science Leila Farsakh, Political Science lecturer Hormoz Shahdadi, and Professor of Global Studies Craig Murphy discuss the struggle against authoritarian rule in the Middle East and the tensions that have led to the uprooting of two veteran leaders, Mubarak and Ben Ali. They talked about how these protests were successful and more importantly, what happens now.
Farsakh said there were several reasons the protests succeeded. Not only was the revolution led by the youth -- it has been called the Youth Revolution -- but it was tied with economic grievances, and was inclusive, with people young and old participating in all of Egypt's major cities. The army also refused to shoot at the protestors.
"It's a revolution that included everybody," Farsakh said. "It's about wanting the state to serve the people rather than benefit from the people. It's about making the state accountable."
Many have questioned how Egypt's ruling Higher Military Council could promise a redrafted constitution within 10 days. The council appointed a Constitutional Amendment Committee authorized to redraft six articles of the constitution. Professor Murphy said the framework of this new constitution has been in the works for many years, with academics and policy experts studying ways to create a more democratic society in Egypt. The United Nations supported much of this work advocating for democracy.
"This document was sitting in a drawer waiting for this moment," he said.
While Professor Farsakh, like many, is hopeful that changes will come as a result of the past month's events, not everyone is sold on impact of these protests. Professor Shahdadi said he is skeptical, and went as far as saying, "this was not a revolution." He argued that a true revolution requires a disintegration of the military, which hasn't happened.
"Basically nothing is going to change, because no structural change has happened," Shahdadi said.
The professors agreed that it will be interesting to see what happens once the reformed constitution is put before the people for referendum.
"One demonstrator said, 'I am so happy now, but I am so scared,'" Professor Farsakh said. "Will the revolution change everything? How long will this euphoria remain? ... It's still in the making. That's why it's so exciting."