The Jewish Influence on Egypt's Glorious Revolution: A Gene Sharp Reader
02/15/2011 - 18:53

If you are anything like me, you've been transfixed by the Egyptian revolution.  If you value political freedom, human dignity and non-violent resistance as means to achieve both, than this was an event impossible not to love.  We all know the future is uncertain--if a legitimate democracy will takes Mubarak's place, and if that democracy will mesh with its former allies, America and Israel among them--but the short history of the revolution itself is what both conservatives and liberals alike in the U.S. have been hoping for for years: a democratic revolution with broad popular support.

But here's what you may have missed: the Jewish influence on the revolution.  In the past couple of days, the name of the non-violent theorist Gene Sharp has continued to pop up. An 81-year-old retired professor, Sharp's writings on non-violence have not only been read by the key leaders of the Egyptian revolution, but by ones who kicked off similar protests in the former Soviet states, Burma, Iran, Venezuela and many other current dictatorships. His short 90-page manual, "From Dictatorships to Democracy," has shown up in the hands of thousands of protesters, and it includes practical non-violence techniques from how to stage public funeral, to adopting a color as a movement's theme.

Right now you're probably thinking that Sharp is Jewish.  That's what I assumed, but he's not. According to this Wall Street Journal profile from 2008--when Sharp's name popped up again, after Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez cited him, not in praise--his father was an itinerant Protestant preacher.  But the non-violent center he's been running for almost 30 years, the Albert Einstein Institute, was funded for more than two decades by Peter Ackerman, who was Jewish.  A former student of Sharp when he taught at Harvard, Ackerman made millions working with the junk-bond financier Michael Milken.  But he remained loyal to his old professor, and when Sharp asked for funding for a non-violent center, Ackerman backed him.

The story doesn't exactly end well, however. Ackerman, the Journal reports, had a falling out with Sharp over the direction of the institute, where Sharp wanted to keep it small, and Ackerman wanted to expand.  In 2004, Ackerman stopped funding it, leaving Sharp with a $150,000 annual budget.  But Ackerman went on to fund a newer activist center based in Washington, D.C., called the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict.  Since 2002, it's also helped give advice and raise awareness about non-violent resistance to anti-democratic regimes.

Sharp has other Jewish connections too. I found an interview Sharp gave to The Progressive in 2009, where he cites some of his influences.  Of course there are the non-violent titans--Ghandi and Martin Luther King--but there is also the time his spent in Norway in the 1950s.  While he was there, he interviewed dozens of locals about what they did under the Nazi-allied regime during the war years.  "What did the Norwegians do during the Nazi occupation? How did they successfully resist the Norwegian fascist regime of Vidkun Quisling during the Nazi occupation?" Sharp told The Progessive.

"I interviewed several people on that subject," he went on, "and I wrote that up and it became a booklet. [The booklet details how Norwegian teachers braved intimidation and incarceration to band together and resist Quisling’s indoctrination program for the schools.] I also interviewed several people on what was done to save the Jews of Norway. And there were other successful anti-Nazi movements, such as German women married to Jewish men, who demonstrated at Rosenstrasse." 

I am sure there are other Jewish ideas that have found there way into Egypt's marvelous revolution, however circuitously. But I don't want to overclaim their significance; it is only nice to hear they exist. This event was, after all, by and for Egyptians, and there is nothing wrong with simply praising that.


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jews contributed to world lot but they have taken very less from world . greatest contribution from jews science ,technology etc others should emulate jews .

Great article- Can his ideas be applied in Asia with tricky, barbaric, Communist groups of lumpen proletaria ?

How many in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, et al. realize and give credit/thanks to Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg (Jewish-American) for the roll it played in allowing them to organize?
I couldn't agree more with the other Anonymous comment. It is incredibly belittling to the Egyptian people to try to give credit to anyone but them for this revolution. You went a step further and tried find a trace of influence from your own people. I don't even understand why you would ask yourself a question like that, let alone write it down.
Why the need to find some connection between Sharp and Jews? Why the initial assumption that he was Jewish? What's the with the ethnonationalist obsession? Sharp, in an ever so humble way, said it was the Egyptians who brought down the Israel/US backed dictatorship of Mubarak. He takes no credit. It is the Egyptian people who are heros. It is almost belittling to the Egyptian people to say that somehow an outsider is responsible for this.
This article gets several key facts wrong about Peter Ackerman's background and relationship with Gene Sharp. The following is well known among scholars and others who study and write about nonviolent struggle. Gene Sharp was an advisor to Ackerman when the latter wrote his doctoral dissertation on Gandhi's movement against the British in India, at the Fletcher School at Tufts University. Ackerman was one of the donors to the Einstein Institution, when he served on its board. (The Wall Street Journal was wrong when it said that he had a "falling out" with Sharp.) Moreover, Ackerman has been a scholarly authority on nonviolent conflict in his own right for more than 20 years, having co-authored "Strategic Nonviolent Conflict" and "A Force More Powerful," both of which remain seminal books in the field. The International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, which Ackerman founded with another colleague, does not "give advice" to those resisting any kind of regimes. Its guidelines (publicly posted) prohibit it from giving advice to people engaged in resistance. Rather, it's an educational foundation that transfers generic knowledge about how civil resistance has been effective in scores of historical cases, to anyone who requests it, including educators, journalists and the policy community, in addition to activists.