On February 9, Al Jazeera aired an episode in its People and Power series entitled “Egypt: Seeds of Change.” The programme offers a revealing behind the scenes look at a core group of activists from the April 6 Youth Movement who played a crucial role in Egypt’s nonviolent revolution.
“This is not a spontaneous uprising,” reporter Elizabeth Jones stressed. “The revolution has been in the making for three years.” The key to its success, we learn, was the instruction April 6 leaders received from veterans of groups like Otpor, the student movement that brought down Serbian president Slododan Milosevic.
Srdja Popovic, a leader of that revolution, we are told, “shared his firsthand experience with April 6.” Mohamed Adel, one of the April 6 leaders, describes his training in Serbia in the tactics of nonviolent resistance, including “how to organise and get people out on the streets.” He brought back videos and teaching aids to help train the other leaders, who are shown “directing the uprising from the start.”
Since the ouster of Milosevic in 2000, Popovic has been busy spreading the gospel of nonviolent warfare. In 2003, he founded the Centre for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS) in Belgrade. By spring 2010, the globe-trotting Serb reportedly had “five revolutions already under his belt.” In a Mother Jones puff piece, Nicholas Schmidle writes: “CANVAS got off to an impressive start, training the pro-democracy campaigners in Georgia, Ukraine, and Lebanon who went on to lead the Rose, Orange, and Cedar revolutions, respectively.”
But who funds it all? Schmidle, a fellow at the Soros-linked New America Foundation, cites Popovic: “CANVAS is ‘100 percent independent from any government’ and funded entirely by private donors.” Yet an LA Times profile of Nini Gogiberidze, a Georgian employee of CANVAS, says the group is funded in part by the near-governmental organisation Freedom House. “Gogiberidze,” the Times adds, “is among Georgia’s ‘velvet’ revolutionaries, a group of Western and local activists who make up a robust pro-democracy corps in this Caucasus country—so much of it funded by American philanthropist George Soros that one analyst calls the nation Sorosistan.”
CANVAS works closely with the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC), with which it has shared a number of staff members—including Dr. Stephen Zunes, who has collaborated with CANVAS in training Egyptian activists. Founded in 2002, the ICNC is funded entirely by Peter Ackerman, its founding chair. Ackerman, who chaired the board of Freedom House from September 2005 until January 2009, also indirectly funds CANVAS.
Ackerman’s wealth derives mainly from his time at Drexel Burnham Lambert, the Wall Street investment bank that was forced into bankruptcy in February 1990 due to its involvement in illegal activities in the junk bond market. As special projects aide to junk bond king Michael Milken, Ackerman cleaned up. In 1988 alone, he took home a salary of $165 million for his critical role in financing Kohlberg Kravis Roberts’s $26 billion leveraged buyout of RJR Nabisco. But four months before Drexel collapsed into bankruptcy, Ackerman “beat a fortuitously timed retreat” to the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. While the “king” was sentenced to 10 years for securities fraud, “the highest-paid of all of Michael R. Milken’s minions” emerged as “the big winner” with a fortune of approximately $500 million—prompting one of his former colleagues to complain: “Peter Ackerman is a real Teflon guy.”
Having successfully escaped “the stench of Drexel,” Ackerman completed what BusinessWeek called “an improbable transformation from junk-bond promoter back to scholar.” Prior to his financial exploits, he had written his doctoral thesis under the guidance of Gene Sharp, the Harvard academic whose theories of nonviolent struggle had inspired the velvet revolutionaries. In fact, while he was still working for Milken, Ackerman had been funding Sharp’s Albert Einstein Institution. According to the Wall Street Journal, “A large part of ICNC’s and Canvas’s theoretical arsenal is drawn from Mr. Sharp’s writings.”
As part of his own contribution to worldwide revolution, Ackerman has helped produce two documentaries on nonviolent conflict and even a regime change video game. His film on Otpor’s toppling of Milosevic played a crucial role in the success of Georgia’s Rose Revolution, which brought George Soros protégé Mikheil Saakashvili to the presidency in 2004. Every Saturday for months, a Soros-backed TV network broadcast “Bringing Down a Dictator.” As one activist told the Washington Post, “Most important was the film. All the demonstrators knew the tactics of the revolution in Belgrade by heart because they showed [the film]…. Everyone knew what to do.”
At one point in the Al Jazeera programme, Ahmed Maher, “the main instigator of this revolution,” reveals his group’s close collaboration with Mohamed ElBaradei, the former IAEA chief, who flew back to Cairo on January 27. “From the beginning,” he said, “the April 6 Youth Movement has been allied with the groups that cooperated with ElBaradei when he returned to Egypt.” Up to his opportune return, ElBaradei and Peter Ackerman’s wife, Joanne Leedom-Ackerman, had both been board members of the Soros-financed International Crisis Group.
And for those who believe that Israel is genuinely worried about the prospect of “democratic change” south of the border, Ackerman’s participation in a roundtable discussion entitled “The Challenge of Radical Islam” at the 2008 Herzliya Conference with Uzi Landau—Ariel Sharon’s Minister of Internal Security and current member of the Knesset for Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu—should give them pause for thought.
Maidhc Ó Cathail writes extensively on U.S. foreign policy and the Middle East.