On Collective Leadership and Collective Intelligence: Words from Tahrir Square, Egypt

On Collective Leadership and Collective Intelligence: Words from Tahrir Square, Egypt


by Joan Bragar Mansour, ED.D, leadership development specialist at MSH.

Dr. Morsi Mansour is an Egyptian surgeon and Leadership Development Specialist for MSH who teaches leadership to health professionals and develops leadership facilitators around the world. He was in Tahrir Square for two weeks during the uprising in Egypt and shares his experience below.

In Egypt, there has been a Leadership Development Program since 2002. Using their own local resources, health workers unified in over 184 health units across the Aswan governorate in Egypt focused on reducing maternal mortality and succeeded in reducing it from 85/100,000 to 35/100,000 in two years.

It is the power of this kind of leadership that Dr. Morsi Mansour was able to be witness and contribute to in Tahrir Square over the past two weeks. The power of Collective Intelligence, which focuses many people on a clear result---the end of a dictatorial regime, and the power of Collective Leadership, which does not rely only on a few at the top, but on many people at all levels, who can face challenges and achieve desired results.

The Collective Intelligence and Collective Leadership, that often guides MSH’s work, was profoundly demonstrated by the people of Egypt who persisted to have a say in the future of their government, even under the most repressive of conditions.

The unique kind of revolution we saw in Egypt did not aim to elevate one leader to inspire the people and then expect that people will then raise him to be a half-God or another pharaoh. This revolution ended this era of pharaoh-type leadership forever. Instead, the people focused together on changing the current situation from its root causes---to create a new Egypt where every citizen can enjoy freedom, justice, and genuine democracy.

From Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt

by Dr. Morsi Mansour

Dr. Morsi Mansour, Egyptian Leadership Specialist

I joined the protests to stand with my fellow Egyptians but soon found myself called to deliver medical care to injured protestors and ultimately to work with the planners to make strategies to unify the many groups calling for a change.

We worked together to help people completely think through this big challenge, to unify strategic thinking and decisions. We were able to communicate by mobile phones and by mega-phones in Tahrir Square. But across the country, people acted in a unified way. I learned that collective leadership is incredible. This was a great example of Collective Intelligence and Collective Leadership. There was no one leader, but many who worked together for a greater cause.

Every day we stood as one, these millions in Tahrir Square and in squares all over Egypt. We were sure that Freedom would come. We felt it in our hearts and in our tears. Everybody was working and doing everything they could without looking for recognition. It was a collective leadership that I had never seen before in my life. The Egyptian people all did it and no one leader stood out.

The Egyptian people are a civilized people with 7,000 years of civilization in their genes---educated and non-educated, poor and rich---they have civilization in their genes and they are able to act in a unified, peaceful way, even when provoked, even when they were attacked, even when 300-400 were killed, and more than 5,000 with serious injuries---nothing stopped them.

When the tanks were about to occupy Tahrir Square, they put their bodies in front of the tanks; they put their bodies between the wheels of the tanks to stop them from moving. They replaced the fear forever with courage and hope and dignity.

This is the Egyptian people. When they want, they can change anything and they can face any power.

I was in the middle of the battle when thugs of the government national party attacked us with the horses and camels. I was trying to organize people in rows to defend against these attacks. The young protesters were flying to get the thugs down from these horses and camels. I do not know where they got this power; they were incredibly brave. They did not fear  these criminal thugs with their weapons and animals. They brought the camels and horses down.

We were pushed by the momentum of the people up to the Egyptian museum, and suddenly the stones came over us like rain. I was protected by my computer bag that I held over my head. I was carrying it filled with my medications, water bottles, and biscuits. We started making noise asking for help from the people in the back of Tahrir Square by hitting the metal fence with stones.

When the people were injured from the stones, I returned to the first-aid station in the middle of the square to treat the people, and each time I dressed someone with a deep wound, I asked them to go to the nearby field hospital to get sutures, they said, "no I will return back to help my brothers." They did not care about the big deep wounds on their heads and faces, they just wanted to go back to defend their brothers and country.

That morning, I had brought a lot of antibiotics and bandages from the pharmacy. I was expecting something might happen. The smell of death from the live gunshots was all over the area, people shouting for ambulances to carry the injured people with gunshots in their heads and chests was all around. During this night, we lost 12 innocent young people who sacrificed their lives to bring real democracy to Egypt.

After that I did not work as a doctor anymore. I started to work with the planners.

January 25 is an historical day for the whole world. People are very happy and proud. All of Egypt is in the streets now celebrating this great accomplishment and demonstration of unity. Everybody was helping the others; everybody was leaning on each other.

Now the challenge is to be unified, to enable each group to express themselves and to be represented in a group that can negotiate a new constitution. We want a complete democracy, we will never, never, never give up.

Thanks to all of you for your empathy and support.

From Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt
Morsi Mansour
February 11, 2011