Controlling the Arab Street

A Brief History of Sit-Ins and Strongmen

A poster of Gamal Abdel Nasser in Cairo, July 2002. Aladin Abdel Naby / Courtesy Reuters

In Egypt, as in many of the great revolutions of modern history, the people not only overthrew the old order but also remained in the streets of the capital to oversee the creation of a new one. And as was to be expected, the forces of order, notably the army, then sought to send them home. What is unusual about the Egyptian case, however, is that the sit-ins, encampments, and targeted occupations were well organized and had been developed by the Muslim Brotherhood to last in the face of military intervention.

The generals who run Egypt today are not the first Arab rulers to fear the power of those seeking to use the streets and open spaces to demand change. Shutting down access was a top priority for the Gamal Abdel Nasser regime, which seized power in Cairo in a 1952 military coup and was then unwilling to share it with

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