The people of Egypt have achieved a tremendous victory, one that has inspired the whole world to celebrate. The possibilities it raises for peace and democracy not only give hope to a region beset by authoritarian rule and Western intervention, but prove that nonviolent action is alive and well in the Muslim world.
Unfortunately, this latter point is often lost or overlooked by our major media outlets, whose experts and analysts have so little knowledge of the history and dynamics of nonviolence that they typically don’t know how to interpret what they’ve just seen. To counter this shortcoming, Waging Nonviolence has asked a wide range of eminent thinkers to discuss their initial thoughts on this historic moment, the challenges ahead and what it all means for the future of nonviolent action.
We are presenting their responses as a series over the next couple days. Here is the second installment. To read the first part, click here.
What does this movement mean for the future of nonviolent action around the world?
“The real impact of Tunisia on Egyptians may have been the sense among them that if the Tunisians could do it, why couldn’t they do it? Iranians may respond similarly. Civil resistance requires courage as well as strategy, but the threshold is lowered when you know that others have felt summoned by history. At the same time, it’s wise not to get too cosmic about what has happened. The effect of external influence or promotion of people power is exaggerated by its proponents as well as by the regimes and purveyors of disinformation who attack it. But successful cases like the one in Egypt do yield lessons to serious students, and right now the Middle East is one huge classroom.
On a global level, I’m concerned that the utility of Facebook and other social media in mobilizing protesters in Egypt may deceive protest groups into believing that they’ve formed a movement when they haven’t. For several years in Egypt, political dissidents, labor organizers, lawyers interested in human rights, women’s rights groups, Copts, Bedouins and Islamists were all quietly organizing, developing their discourse of grievance and protest, and becoming known to one another. The Egyptian revolution was not a flash mob, and would not have been successful without this broad albeit unevenly distributed coalition of interests, who had studied and planned. Ultimately kids didn’t do this; all Egyptians did. It’s incumbent on those of us who study and speak about civil resistance to focus on the real requirements of organizing, mobilizing and strategic thinking, so that the euphoria of Egypt doesn’t make people elsewhere think that some new people power epoch will carry everyone along with it. The American politician Tip O’Neill once famously said, “all politics is local.” That applies especially to putting together the building blocks of nonviolent struggle.” – Jack DuVall, President, International Center for Nonviolent Conflict
“It means that the paradigm set by the Green Movement in Iran and worked to perfection in Tunisia and Egypt will become the primary means of social protest in the rest of the Middle East.” – Reza Aslan, Associate Professor, University of California, Riverside
“In truth the post-revolution will determine whether Egypt is seem as an example for others to emulate, but at this point it is a shining example of how peaceful people power can win out against terrible tyranny.” – Mary Joyce, Founder and Executive Director, Meta-Activism Project
“I was reminded of the triumph of the Filipino people over the Marcos regime, the independence movement in India, and the civil rights struggle in the United States. But I also thought of the failed revolutions—Tienanmen Square, and the Green Revolution in Iran. Triumph, like the one in Tahrir Square, is certainly sweet and makes you believe, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, that the arc of history bends towards justice. But when the nonviolent movements fail, I think that they never really fail, in that they build up resolve and resources for later struggles to come. I believe that the proponents of human rights and political freedom in Iran and China will still have their day.” – Mark Juergensmeyer, Director, Orfalea Center for Global & International Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara
“The events very effectively and dramatically dispel some of the common misconceptions that many hold about this technique of action and it’s relevance for groups worldwide who are struggling for a variety of objectives. These misconceptions include:
1. The supposed unshakable grip that dictatorships and authoritarian regimes have over power in a society, and
2. The perceived helplessness of opposition groups and those striving for change when confronted with the seemingly invulnerable power of authoritarian rulers.
3. The false belief in violence as the most powerful tool available to people struggling for change, despite a multitude of historical examples that disprove this assumption.
4. The incorrect view of nonviolent forms of resistance as being weak and ineffective, or that nonviolent action depends on “melting of the heart of the opponent” (a phrase Gene often uses).
5. And finally, other harmful and untrue assumptions people hold about Muslims and Arabs and their supposed inherent violent nature.” – Jamila Raqib, Executive Director, Albert Einstein Institution
“Egypt has historically played a crucial role in the Middle East. It is by far the largest Arab country. However, it has essentially been a frozen entity since the Cold War. What we are witnessing is the change in Egypt and that will have massive implications on the rest of the Middle East. From how Israel assesses its security, to Arab-Iranian relations. Cairo is again becoming a dynamic — rather than a static — player, and people power. Even more, people power in Egypt already mobilizes opressed people throughout Arab world, and I expect we will witness many troubles for those who attempt to maintain a firm grip over young, bright and educated people from Algeria, Yemen or Tehran.” – Srdja Popovic, Founder, Centre for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS)
“The Tunisian and Egyptian models are a game changer for the Muslim world, if they want it. For some time, the perception has been violence or nothing, and nonviolence is a western or Far Eastern notion that doesn’t apply. Well, they just applied it and the tools are available and with two more US allies down and out from nonviolence, I think this is actually the best advertisement for nonviolence in a long time.” – Tom Hastings, Director of Peace and Nonviolence, Portland State University
“Well, it’s obviously very inspiring and I think many folks in places such as Iran, Burma, Belarus, Tibet, and elsewhere are feeling emboldened by the successes of the people of Egypt. But perhaps even more significantly, the victory of mass nonviolent action in Egypt has implications for terrorist organizations around the world. As nonviolent methods succeed, they de-legitimize violence as a method of pushing grievances and creating change. Nonviolent action offers a realistic alternative (and powerful) form of struggle. So today’s victory has the potential to seriously damage the recruitment campaigns of terrorist organizations. And in that sense, the people of Egypt have done all of us great favor. By demonstrating that mass nonviolent action by the people can be more effective than violent insurrection, they have probably made the world a little safer for all of us.” – Cynthia Boaz, Assistant Professor, Sonoma State University
“The Egyptian activists gave us another powerful example to counter the power and realist paradigm. Our culture of nonviolence is getting stronger and stronger with every event like this. It means that Arab societies and Middle Eastern communities have another sign of hope that can inspire them to revolt peacefully and nonviolently against their oppressive regimes.” – Mohammed Abu-Nimer, Director of the Peacebuilding and Development Institute, American University.