February 2011


Students will:

  • Identify the causes of the demonstrations in Egypt.
  • Explore the role of traditional and social media in the uprising.
  • Consider the U.S. response to events in Egypt.


Graphic Organizer: Egypt

Life Magazine: Cairo’s Fiery Protest Signs

Powerpoint: Protest Signs

Powerpoint: Political Cartoons

Optional Resource: Analyzing Political Cartoons

Note to Teachers

  • This lesson is the first in a series on the recent events in Egypt. The second, After Mubarak, helps students consider the implications of a leadership change in Egypt on the protests for democracy throughout the Middle East and North Africa. The third, Protests, Revolutions, and Democratic Change, helps students consider the potential effects of the protests on democracy and stability in the Middle East and North Africa.
  • You may choose to watch the videos as a class, or have students work in small groups. Your decision will probably depend on the availability of technology.
  • This lesson is intended to be an introduction and may be used as a steppingstone to further inquiry.
  • This activity is the first of two activities on the recent events in Egypt. The second, “Mubarak and Egypt’s Future,” helps students consider the implications of a change in leadership in Egypt and the protests for democracy in the region.

In the Classroom

Getting Started

1. Write the question “Why are people demonstrating in Egypt?” on the board. Have students brainstorm what they know about the demonstrations. Who is demonstrating? How is the Egyptian government responding? How is the U.S. government responding? Have students heard different opinions about what’s happening? About how to respond? About other demonstrations taking place in the Middle East?

2. Distribute the graphic organizer to students. Tell students to complete the graphic organizer as they watch the following videos.

3. After viewing the videos, review students’ notes on the graphic organizer as needed.

Note: The situation in Egypt changes every hour. Stay up to date with information from the following sources:

Al Jazeera English: Revolt on the Nile—Egypt Special Coverage
This site includes photos, news articles, and a live stream of video reporting from Egypt.

The New York Times: Egypt News—The Protests
This site includes recent news articles, interactive timelines, maps, and photos.

Alive in Egypt: Transcribing the Voices of Egypt
In response to internet restrictions, this site translates and transcribes phone messages from Egypt into Twitter posts that can be read worldwide.

Al-Masry Al-Youm
An English language edition of an independent Egyptian newspaper and media outlet. Includes videos.

Occupied Cairo
This blog is a collection of comments, contributions, and visual media from the Egyptian uprising.

Protest Signs in the Media

By shutting down the internet and cell phone networks the Egyptian government has tried to limit the free speech of its citizens. Nevertheless, Egyptians have found ways to make their voices heard. The website Alive in Egypt is translating and transcribing phone messages from Egypt into Twitter posts that can be read anywhere in the world. Some speculate that the lack of internet access has actually fueled the protests as citizens leave their homes to find out what’s going on. The demonstrations have captured international attention, and media outlets like Al Jazeera are streaming images and live video around the globe. As protesters march through the streets of Alexandria, Cairo, and many other cities, they carry signs with messages for their government and for the world.

1. Before exploring images of protest signs, show students the following videos:

2. Have students examine the photographs of protesters and their signs from the Life Magazine website or another compilation of images in this Powerpoint . Ask them to consider who is involved in the demonstrations. Do the protesters look like mostly young people or older people? Are they mostly women or men? Do the demonstrators seem to represent one particular subgroup or a wide range of Egyptian society? Judging by the signs, what do the protesters want? What are their biggest grievances with Hosni Mubarak’s government? How do these photographs differ from the images of Middle Easterners that students typically see on the news? Do these photographs represent a new image of the Middle East for students? How do they affect students’ opinions and feelings about this region of the world?

3. For this next activity, break students into small groups or assign for homework individually. Each group (or individual) should choose a sign that they find particularly powerful. Ask them to answer the following questions in a brief paragraph. Why is the sign effective at conveying its message? Does it utilize any particular techniques (for example humor, a picture, or a statistic) to communicate the protester’s beliefs? Who does the message on the sign address? President Mubarak? President Obama? Others? Who do students think the sign is supposed to impact? Fellow protesters? The Egyptian government? The international community? Others? Have students think about why many of the signs are written in English.

Note: At the end of the lesson, students will be asked to express their views on the situation in Egypt by creating a sign or political cartoon. You may choose to have students complete their cartoons or signs before completing “A Role for the United States?”

A Role for the United States?

1. The recent protests in Egypt have put an international spotlight on U.S.-Egypt relations and the role of the United States in the region. Inform students that they are going to analyze political cartoons to identify different viewpoints about the U.S. relationship with Egypt, and will ultimately articulate their own views about the U.S. response to the protests. What do students know about the U.S. relationship with Egypt? How has the U.S. government responded to the recent protests? Show the following videos to your students to introduce them to the topic.

2. Distribute or project the two cartoons and give students time to look them over. In each cartoon, what is the cartoonist’s message? Do the cartoons represent different points of view? If you wish to spend extra time exploring the techniques that cartoonists use to express their views, you may find Analyzing Political Cartoons to be a helpful resource.

3. The cartoons address a range of issues related to the United States and Egypt. Have students identify as many issues as they can. What information do the cartoons convey? What other issues are relevant to U.S.-Egypt relations that are not mentioned in the cartoons? Access to oil? The Middle East peace process? What questions do the cartoons raise for students about the U.S. relationship with Egypt? About the U.S. response to the recent protests?

4. What values and interests do students believe should guide U.S. involvement in Egypt? In the broader Middle East? With these values and interests in mind, how do students think the United States should respond to the recent protests?

Further Discussion: The cartoons address the themes of democracy and stability, two topics that are often central to discussions about the complex U.S. relationship with Egypt and the broader Middle East. For example, one cartoon suggests that the United States continue to support Mubarak as a stabilizing force in the region. The other mocks the idea that the United States would even consider supporting a dictator instead of supporting peoples’ movements for freedom and democratic change.

Ask students to consider the two topics and the relationship between them. Do they think that these topics should influence the U.S. response to the protests? Do students believe the United States should support democratic movements in Egypt? Should promote security in the country and in the region? If so, how? Do student believe the two goals are mutually exclusive?

For example, do students believe that continuing to support long-term allies such as Mubarak is essential for security and stability? Security and stability for whom? Could democratic changes in Egypt provide greater security and stability? For whom? Egyptians seeking political freedoms and increased quality of life? Neighbors in the region? The United States?

You may wish to use the following videos to prompt discussion on this debate.

Final Activity: Expressing Students’ Opinions

As a concluding class activity or homework assignment, challenge students to create their own sign or political cartoon that communicates their opinion about the situation in Egypt. Ask them to think about their intended audience and effective ways of communicating a political message. Where might they display their work if they want it to have an impact on people? Perhaps suggest that students photograph their signs and cartoons and upload them to the internet using a blog or other social network.

Let Your Voice Be Heard

Encourage your students to express their views.

Contact Elected Officials

Students could write letters to elected officials. They can find contact information for the White House at www.whitehouse.gov/contact and their U.S. senators and representatives at thomas.loc.gov.

Write Locally

Students could write letters to the editor of a local paper or write articles for the school or community newspaper.


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