Samuel P. Jacobs reports on the stunning impact of Gene Sharp, the head of the Boston-based Albert Einstein Institute whose "From Dictatorships to Democracy" inspired revolutionaries in Cairo and beyond.
There are many roots of the Egyptian revolution. But one of the most unlikely goes back to an East Boston rowhouse, where an 83-year-old named Gene Sharp runs a shoestring operation called the Albert Einstein Institute—and arguably just changed the course of history.
For the last half century, Sharp has been writing about nonviolent protest, and trying to make his ideas accessible to dissidents the world over. No mean feat, given that his signature work, The Politics of Non-Violent Action, weighs in at 900 pages and was published in 1973. But it’s working. Thanks in part to a distillation of his ideas entitled From Dictatorships to Democracy, which can be downloaded from Sharp’s website in dozens of languages, his gospel of upheaval has apparently become essential reading for budding revolutionaries in Cairo and parts beyond.
Ahmed Maher, a 28-year-old construction engineer, was one of the young Web-savvy upstarts who helped set in motion the protests that last week ended Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule. Maher, of the April 6 Movement, looked to Serbia’s democratic movements for inspiration. There, he found Otpor, a protest group which helped take down strongman Slobodan Milosevic. From Otpor, the young Egyptians discovered the teachings of Sharp, who urges nonviolent resistance as the most efficient way to topple dictatorships.