Martin Luther King's Ideas Reverberate In Egypt

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Today we're hearing about the influence of Martin Luther King. But did you know, it stretches from the streets of Montgomery, Alabama to Cairo, Egypt? All through a comic book.

At the height of the protests in Tahrir Square last year, 29-year-old human rights activist Dalia Ziada handed out an Arabic version of the 1950's comic book, "Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story," which told the story of the famed bus boycott.

Dalia had never even heard of King until she attended a civil rights conference in 2006. After that, she told Here & Now's Robin Young, she modeled everything she did after the African American civil rights pioneer:

"The most inspiring thing for me about MLK was that he was a young man when he started the movement that changed the history of the us and probably the whole world. He believed in civil rights and in reaching to these civil rights through non violent action and strategies. he was a man of peace, a man who preferred to use his mind rather than his muscles and this is so rare in our world," Ziada said.

Dalia works in Cairo for the American Islamic Congress and they asked her to translate the Montogomery comic book into Arabic.

An Egyptian security officer tried to block publication, but after Dalia met with him using lessons from Martin Luther King. She turned her enemy into an ally. He even asked for copies of the comic book for his kids!

When the original was published in 1958, it also had to skirt censors.

A Christian pacifist group hired one of the creators of the Li'l Abner comic strip to illustrate it--and a blacklisted comic book writer to write the text in a way that would fall inside the guidelines of American censorship rules in place at the time.

But the book was so controversial many readers burned it, to protect themselves.

Others were inspired by it to launch the lunch counter sit in in Greensboro, North Carolina soon after, the book spread to apartheid era South Africa. Where it was banned, it was translated into Spanish and distributed throughout Latin America.

And as we said about 50 years later, the comic book played a role in the Arab Spring.

Dalia Ziada is hoping to spread king's influence further. She ran for parliament in the recent elections and is now awaiting the results.

This segment aired on January 16, 2012.


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