"We want to live in peace and we can live in peace." This was a quote told by Ahmed Maher 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee on Tuesday, November 15th at The Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. Maher is the original founder of "The April 6th Youth Movement," a Facebook page started in 2008 that gained over 70,000 members in a matter of days began to revolution that eventually inspired millions of people to occupy Cairo's Tahrir Square on January 25, 2011. I had the pleasure of sitting just a few feet away as Maher was being interviewed by UCLA history professor, James L. Gelvin, who specializes and has written several books on the social and cultural history of the modern Middle East.
This event came together due to the efforts of the non-profit organization, The Artists and Athletes Alliance andUCLA. The Artists and Athletes Alliance operates as a nexus between the entertainment community and Washington DC. Steve Ross, Executive Director stated that "the mission of our nonprofit organization is to educate members of the entertainment and creative community on public policy and the important national and international issues facing the nation". The Artists and Athletes Advisory Board includes a slew of celebrities and professional athletes led by it's two co-chairs, Kelsey Grammer and Jason Alexander. It's other members include, actors such as Bradley Cooper, Bob Saget, and Joel McHale, recording artists Brad Paisley, Akon and Joss Stone and athletes including Olympic gold medalists Jackie Joyner Kersee and Scott Hamilton as well as many many others from the entertainment and sports industry. The Alliance is also a proud supporters of vast list of various charities including, Rock the Vote, Habitat for Humanity and The Boys and Girl Club of America.
Tuesday night's event included about 150 people. The group was extremely diverse, but I did recognize a few familiar faces including Tony Shaloub ("Monk") and actor Orlando Jones ("Mad TV"), actress Brooke Adams ("Monk"), comedian Jeffrey Ross ("Comedy Central Roastsl") Maz Jobrani ("Axis of Evil") and Ahmed Ahmed ("Axis of Evil") actor Omar Miller from ("CSI-Miami"). Former NFL players Amon Arnold and Chris Hale were also in attendance. Before the briefing began the guests mingled and munched on an array of appetizers ranging from three different kinds of dumplings to mini grilled cheeses with truffle oil. Yum! I spoke to many people from UCLA and the entertainment industry as I observed and enjoyed the nice low-key atmosphere.
We were eventually led into a large ballroom with rows of chairs and a small stage where Gelvin and Maher sat talking quietly while we all found our seats. I daringly took a seat in the front row. Professor James L. Gelvin and Ahmed Maher were introduced and Maher regaled us with how he began his revolutionary journey to what would eventually culminate in the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Maher is 30 years old and works as a civil engineer. He has two kids ages four and six months. Every answer he gave Gelvin was incredibly in depth. He began with a long list what his country faced under Mubarak's ruling including, "the police have unlimited authority, they can kill anyone on site or in their sleep, no free media, no good prices, no good salaries, no jobs, nothing. " He told about how he started the Facebook group and how in "a few hours it had 4,000 members, after a day, 5-6 thousand and after a few days close to 70,000 members asking what can we do?" He talked about how he and his fellow activists planned to occupy Tehrir Square. They even by examined and discussed Hollywood movies like "V for Vendetta." And "how we can apply that in Egypt." They decided to make it a peaceful protest because, "People will support you if you use non-violence." However apparently the police didn't feel the same way. There are countless you tube videos of the police and military attacking protestors on horses and camels. Maher didn't go into details of the brutality and imprisonment he faced on January 25th except saying, "It was a very bad day. The most important moment of my life."
In the end his incredible courage paid off. Mubarak resigned and will stand trial for his recklessness and crimes against his people. When Gelvin asked Maher how he felt about this, he responded, "lt sends a message to Arab countries, that anyone who do the same will go to trial. Anyone who uses violence against it's nation against its people will definitely have the same. So it sends a message to the people, the president of India, and the president of Syria. So I think it's a very important message. "
The night ended with a Q & A in which attendees wrote down questions that were collected and given to Professor Gelvin. One of the questions was, "What would happen if you didn't succeed? Was there a plan B?" Maher smiled, "Plan B? No, we would try to hide for a few months or more and do it again." Then the question was asked, "Where do you find your courage?" Maher shook his head humbly to convey to Gelvin he didn't want to answer and Gelvin moved on with a few more questions. At the end of the Q & A, Maher received a standing ovation as we all applauded him for his incredible courage, even though he didn't want to say where it came from.
I couldn't help but wish he had answered the question, because I don't know if I would be brave enough to risk my life the way he has. I do wonder, where do you find that courage and that strength to stand up for change? Where does that power come from that inspires millions of people to drop everything and congregate for peace? The uprising he led has caused a chain of revolutions all over the world and even now right here in the U.S. with the occupation of Wall Street and recently in downtown LA where people protested in front of Bank of America. People are starting to fight back. Maher and his supporters have shown that a change can be made, and people have noticed.
It was an honor to be in the presence of such an incredible man and I am grateful that The Artists and Athletes Alliance was able to bring him to California to inspire all of us, that change is possible and as Maher put it earlier, "We want to live in peace and we can live in peace."
To find out more about the Artists and Athletes Alliance visit, http://artistsandathletes.org/. Also keep an eye out for Professor James L. Gelvin's latest book titled, "The Arab Uprisings: What Everyone Needs to Know," to be published by The Oxford University Press in 2012.