Rev. Al Sharpton's Weekly Blog

Dr. King’s Teachings Arise in the Middle East

Feb 01, 2011

The world as we know it has changed yet again.  Over the course of the last few week’s we have witnessed massive organizing and protesting in the streets of Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan and across the Middle East/Africa.  As we watch the populous peacefully convene to collectively voice their discontent with government and other factions, it isn’t difficult to see the power of conscientious objection manifesting itself one more time.  It is the same message our great civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. taught us here in the United States decades ago.  And we watch with near amazement today as we see the process modeled and duplicated oceans away in much the same manner Dr. King had intended for oppressed peoples everywhere.

It’s no secret that growing up, I extensively studied the teachings of Dr. King and the unprecedented manner in which he countered injustice and inequity with peace and intellectual discourse.  Incorporating the ideas of nonviolent opposition carried out by Mahatma Gandhi in India, Dr. King utilized the strength of peaceful protests, sit-ins and assembly that galvanized a nation to acknowledge and rectify some of its iniquitous ways.  Dr. King and Gandhi both believed in the right for all peoples to be treated as equal human beings and incorporated in all aspects of society – including self-governance.  After years of autocratic regimes in many countries, it comes as no surprise then that the citizenry are demanding a voice, demanding to be recognized and demanding inclusion.  And they are doing it just like the great struggles of the past.

Following 23 years of virtually unchecked rule, Tunisia’s President, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, stepped down last month after thousands marched and demanded his ouster.  The anti-government demonstrations began in December, and despite small instances of skirmishes, the majority of this vocal opposition centered on peaceful protests.  Observing the success in Tunisia, the people of Egypt quickly followed suit with their own mass rallies that even echoed many of the same chants of our own civil rights struggle translated into Arabic.  Frustrated with a lack of opportunity and vying for a more democratic form of rule, these mostly young Egyptians organized via Twitter/Facebook, other technology and word-of-mouth.  They created banners/signs and marched in the streets emphatically chanting their discontent.  And they were successful in bringing the world’s attention to some of their greatest grievances.

As President Mubarak appoints a new cabinet and states that he will not run for another term, in the country of Jordan, King Abdullah II has shifted his own administration.  Amid rising discontent and demonstrations by the thousands, King Abdullah has called for the resignation of the Prime Minister, Samir Rifai, and asked an ex-army general to form a new cabinet.  The world has yet to see if the concessions of both Mubarak and Abdullah are enough to satisfy the desires of the people in their respective nations, but one thing is for certain – real change has come to the entire region on the heels of non-violent protest taught to us by both Dr. King and Gandhi not so long ago.

We are once again witnessing history right before our very eyes, and witnessing the strength and power of nonviolent opposition in bringing about real results.  As organized gatherings spark in places around the Middle East and beyond, we hope that they will remain peaceful in delivering the will of the people – just as they did on our very own soil.