Much recent research has highlighted the success of non-violent protest. Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan’s data analysis had demonstrated that disciplined, non-violent protests succeed more often than violent ones, even in the face of repressive actions by regimes.
And yet recent events in Bahrain, Egypt, Syria, Libya, and Ukraine give one pause. While Tunisia offers the example of a relatively peaceful protest campaign that overturned a dictatorship, in Libya civil war seemed necessary to overturn a regime about to massacre peaceful protestors in Benghazi. In Egypt, the peaceful protestors who brought down the Mubarak regime were soon marginalized, with the Muslim Brotherhood now outlawed and suffering mass executions at the hands of a counter-revolutionary military regime. In Syria, the dictatorship responded to peaceful protests with brutalizing attacks and seems likely to have crushed the protests if they had not recruited defecting soldiers and become militarized (although to be sure, we do not know what would have happened if the protestors had stuck to non-violence). Finally, in Bahrain, the most massive peaceful protests seen in the region, as a percentage of the population participating, were crushed by the military. By contrast, in Ukraine, it was only after peaceful protestors were galvanized by more violent “ultranationalists” who attacked police and burned buildings that the ruler fled (although again we cannot be sure what would have followed if this turn to violence had not occurred). Continue reading
The aftermath of the revolution has proved to be a harrowing time for Libyans across the country as serious deficits in the rule of law and security persist. Government officials, journalists, and other civilians have been assassinated by nameless villains; embassies have been attacked; violent crime have become a part of daily conversation. While working on a piece of my dissertation in and around Tripoli in September 2013, my Libyan friends and colleagues lamented these facts with despair. I asked one of my most well-informed friends, a life-long resident of Tripoli, if he would ever consider calling the police when, say, experiencing a burglary. Oh no, he replied with surprise. Absolutely not. We handle this problem ourselves. And if you yourself have a problem, or just scream. Yes, scream! Don’t bother with the police. A thousand men will come pouring out of their houses to rescue you. At this last point, I laughed. He chuckled, but halfheartedly. Continue reading
Devoted to nonviolent conflict and civil resistance, the new issue of Research in Social Movements, Conflict, and Change is available now. The volume provides a wide range of case studies around the world including Northern Ireland, Turkey, Iran, Post-Communist States, and Palestine. The articles are also engaging with new conceptual paradigms. In our article, Thou Shall Not Protest!, Mary Bernstein and I utilized Multi-Institutional Perspective approach to explain non-confrontational strategies of some Islamic activists. The issue editors, Sharon Nepstad and Lester Kurtz, introduced Thou Shall Not Protest! as the following:
Another chapter in this volume addresses Sharp’s singular focus on the state and political power. Mustafa Gurbuz and Mary Bernstein examine two Islamic movements in Turkey that responded differently to a conflict over a politician’s decision to wear a headscarf in parliament. The National Outlook movement mobilized demonstrations while the Gulen movement did not. Gurbuz and Bernstein argue that the latter group’s decision was rooted in their belief that power is dispersed throughout civil society and therefore the state should not be the sole target for resistance activities. Instead of directly confronting political authorities, Gulen organizers chose “strategic nonconfrontation” so that they could pursue their goals through other avenues such as contesting everyday cultural practices. Thus, the authors reveal how new forms of nonviolent resistance become evident when we expand our view beyond the state and challenges to political authorities.
At the end of 2011, it seemed like social issues were making their way back onto the Canadian public agenda (“Has the abortion issue been reopened in Canada and what does this mean for social movements?”).” The beginning of the year saw what Lawrence Martin (Dec 27th Globe and Mail) called a “A banner year for the new conservative agenda.” This lead me in my Jan. 10th post (“The new conservative political opportunity in Canada and the Office of Religious Freedom“) to think about a new conservative political opportunity in Canada. We have seen key issues surface: the pipeline, abortion, gay marriage rights, and more recently, small government. But this new conservative public agenda has not gone without backlash . Indeed, the conservative political opportunity has also become an opportunity for a variety of activist mobilization: from environmentalists to more recently, senior citizens.
Recently, the Conservative Harper government unveiled its new budget which among other things, saw the firing of thousands of civil servants and the increase of the retirement age to 67. One Globe and Mail article (March 29, 2012) refers to “Minding the Gap” and a “generational battle brewing over the budget.” The article goes on to say that “Students are concerned about high tuition costs, and those in their late 20s and 30s worry about an impenetrable housing market and weak job prospects – which they blame, in part, on baby boomers. Seniors and those nearing retirement, on the other hand, were concerned about upcoming reforms to Old Age Security.” Continue reading
This week several major media outlets (NPR, BBC, CSM, Al Jazeera) are offering retrospectives of various kinds of the wave of protests that began roughly a year ago in the Middle East and North Africa. Coined as the ‘Arab Spring’ these protests were initially hailed as a wave of nonviolent social change, and proof that democracy and peaceful protest could take root in historically authoritarian regimes, challenging the more conflict based approaches of groups such as Hamas. Continue reading
If you find yourself with some extra time over the holidays and haven’t yet caught the Women, War and Peace series from PBS, get thee to the nearest electronic device with a screen and have a seat. The entire five-part series is now available online, but if your time is limited, start with Pray the Devil Back to Hell. This episode chronicles the journey of 2011 Nobel Prize winner Leymah Gbowee and her comrades as they used creative forms of nonviolent protest to demand and secure peace in Liberia after years of civil war. The women of Liberia are a force, and their story is deeply moving. Moreover, for students of social movements, the Liberian case is a fascinating illustration of agency. These women didn’t wait for an opportunity; they made one.