CAIRO, Egypt – A young Egyptian in his late 20s, Ali lives in the center of the sprawling capital city of Cairo. The city is currently witnessing the rise of social unrest and Ali is stuck in the middle. After 30 years of the Egyptian President Mubarak’s rule, many Egyptians have finally had enough. Screams now echo throughout the city calling for his quick departure. Even though Ali is equally unhappy with the current leader’s reign, he does not align himself with any of the recent protests. Ali views the small groups of protesters as just another cycle of bickering people- those who cannot help but hopelessly complain. Viewing the protesters as more of an annoyance than anything beneficial, Ali would openly mock their efforts. He even admits how, as a form of entertainment, he would “pass by to watch the protesters get beat up by police.”
Ali would have liked to see a more democratic government, he just couldn’t see the protesters accomplishing anything. That and Ali was too busy to care. A swift kick in the face would be needed to break Ali out of his daily stride. Fortunately for him, fate was happy to oblige.
On this day, Ali decided to check-in at the Tahrir Square protests for his daily source of entertainment. In the past, Ali only encountered pockets of protests of only a few hundred people. Today, he walked into Tahrir square to be greeted by several thousand! Instead of the usual scene of protesters being scattered away by riot police, Ali encountered groups of protesters commanding the streets! The sea of protesters quickly submerged the square and spilled out onto adjacent roads. Their orchestrated chants set the pace of the protest and drowned out all outside distractions. Clearly poised for nothing else but disruption, the protesters had taken over.
Business as usual was over. The world had just turned upside-down on Ali, kick-to-face contact was finally achieved. Without hesitation, Ali quickly jumped into the crowd. By the time Ali joined the protestors the police had begun attacking the crowd but by then it didn’t matter, nobody cared. At this moment everything had changed. The momentum began swaying in a new direction. Days later, and weeks after the first protests began, President Mubarak finally resigned.
I met Ali last December as I was backpacking through Thailand. With all the news surrounding the Egyptian protests, I jumped at the chance to hear his story. I was inspired by his perspective and curious of his abrupt change in opinion. All the while hearing his story, I kept thinking of all the elements that pushed Ali over the edge… I couldn’t determine if it was a series of compounding events or the overwhelming moment in Tahrir Square. More importantly, this got me thinking whether there was a method to helping other similar movements succeed. Perhaps there’s model for understanding this tipping point that Ali experienced- maybe a formula developed by scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Network Science and Technology Center that understands the transition of a minority viewpoint to the majority viewpoint and outlines key elements needed for this to occur. Hmm… Kind of sounds like some ammo for another article!
Until then, peace.