Studies of mobilization have long been preoccupied with understanding the effects of repression on protest. However, as Mark Lichbach remarks, the search for models—whether linear, U-shaped, S-shaped, or otherwise—leaves scholars “forever correlating the total aggregate level of one output (government repression) with the total aggregate level of the other output (opposition activity)” (1987: 288). Furthermore, conceptual and analytical inconsistencies persist; aggregated event counts and indicators denoting low, moderate, and high levels of repression vary based on what type of crackdowns “count” as severe and have been accounted for in the media or NGO reports (Davenport 2007).
Because the question “does repression increase or decrease protest?” has dominated the research agenda, I suggest that we revisit our orienting questions. For example, what kinds of repression do activists perceive as severe? Which governmental agents, entities, and affiliates do the repressing, and what does this mean for the short-term outcomes of movement-government standoffs? Which social movements are most at risk for violent repression? And how does the character of a regime shape its propensity for violence? In an effort to expand our conceptualization of the repression-dissent nexus in potentially fruitful and specific ways, I outline several suggestions below. Continue reading
After decades of research on social movement repression, we know that states’ punitive actions do not always have the intended effect. Movements have survived harsh crackdowns and, under the right circumstances, they may even expand when regime brutality provokes outrage. There is a growing literature on the conditions that increase this type of “backfire” (see, for instance, Hess and Martin, 2006 and Chenoweth and Stephan, 2011). Yet these studies primarily focus on factors such as the extent of diversity within the movement, the presence of alternative media, the degree of global attention, and the strategic efforts of political leaders and resisters to spin the repressive event in their favor. While these studies have significantly advanced our knowledge, what is still lacking is an examination of protesters’ own attitudes toward repression. I propose that this can have an important influence on whether they persist in the face of potentially dangerous sanctions. Continue reading
In Egypt, Tunisia, and Ukraine, political regimes were brought down by mass movements of political protest. In contrast, peaceful Syrian protests against the al-Assad regime took a different course and spiraled into violence and civil war. One need only recall the unsuccessful Iranian protests against the fraudulent election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or the unrealized Chinese “jasmine revolution” in 2011 to ponder the contingencies of the repression-mobilization relationship. In the Iranian and Chinese cases, the state effectively quashed protests. In the Syrian case, state violence led to escalation that al-Assad’s piecemeal reforms were unable to stop. In the Ukrainian case, police violence against waning protests caused public outrage and reinvigorated mobilization. Continue reading
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
About two weeks ago, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (better known as the SNC) agreed to attend the “Geneva 2” talks being pushed and planned for by the U.N., the U.S., Russia, and others world powers. These talks would bring the Assad government and the SNC (which is currently recognized as the legitimate alternative to the current Syrian regime by many Middle Eastern and Western nations) together to resolve the lopsided civil war that has resulted in approximately 120,000 casualties, millions of refugees, and thousands of rape and torture victims.
A message from the liberated town of Kafranbel, Syria to the world about the planned “Geneva 2” talks.
The flocking of foreign fighters to the conflict has made the Syrian revolution a messy one indeed. Unabashed intervention by Hezbollah and al-Qaeda-affiliated extremists has bloodied the waters further and made Western powers reluctant to act more decisively, though Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah have had no such qualms. International attempts to relieve suffering inside Syria have been blocked by the regime, and the outpouring of refugees has created one of the most dire regional crises in recent history. Needless to say, these harrowing realities necessitate a solution. Continue reading
Last month, the New York Times posted a video of a summary execution of Syrian soldiers, which was carried out by Syrian insurgents. The article that accompanied the video emphasized the ferociousness of the act. The author suggested that this type of behavior poses a dilemma for leaders of countries who consider support for insurgents. The depth of that dilemma partly depends on the extent to which these actions represent the behavior of the Syrian insurgency at large. If the video is indeed representative of the Syrian insurgency, what can we expect from Syrian insurgents when they get the upper hand in the conflict? How will the insurgents treat Syrian citizens? And will they implement the social and political changes that activists called for in the streets of Damascus and other cities in the spring of 2011? Continue reading
In recent decades, few sociologists have engaged in the study of civil war. For many individuals across the world, civil war is nonetheless an important reality, worthy of sociological attention. As a new contributing editor, I will try to increase such attention. Using this platform, I will raise sociological questions about civil war, and identify points at which sociologists can contribute to, or have contributed to, our understanding of civil war. The current debate on Syria will serve as a starting point.
Syria has been engaged in a civil war for more than two years now. Recently, a chemical attack on civilians took place. Various world leaders have held the Syrian regime responsible for the attack. They have accordingly been discussing a punitive expedition against the Syrian regime. The plans for such an expedition have been put on hold, pending plans for a diplomatic resolution. But the possibility of a punitive expedition is still present. Such an expedition would, arguably, not serve to topple the regime. However, it could influence the support of the Syrian army for the regime. Military support for the Syrian regime deserves attention. Continue reading
Both the CBC and NYT have sites offering comprehensive coverage and explanation of the ongoing events in Syria:
The CBC discussion of key questions:
The New York Times site also has a useful timeline and interactive map showing exactly where events are taking place.