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Posts tagged ‘Arab Spring’

Nonviolence in Syria

From Nation of Change
by Stephen Zunes
1 February 2012

Unarmed Resistance Still Syria’s Best Hope

The Syrian pro-democracy struggle has been both an enormous tragedy and a powerful inspiration. Indeed, as someone who has studied mass nonviolent civil insurrections in dozens of countries in recent decades, I know of no people who have demonstrated such courage and tenacity in the face of such savage repression as have the people of Syria these past 10 months.

The resulting decline in the legitimacy of Bashar al-Assad’s government gives hope that the opposition will eventually win. The question is how many more lives will be lost until then.

While the repressive nature of regime has never been in question, many observers believed it would be smarter and more nuanced in its reaction when the protests of the Arab Spring first came to Syria in March. Indeed, had the government responded to the initial demonstrations like those of Morocco and neighboring Jordan with genuine (if relatively minor) reforms and more subtle means of crowd control, the pro-democracy struggle would have probably faded rather quickly.

Instead, the regime has responded with live ammunition against overwhelmingly nonviolent demonstrators and with widespread torture and abuse of detainees, even as the protests spread to every major region of the country. The death toll as of this writing now stands at more than 5,000.

Unlike Tunisia and Egypt, where the opposition was relatively united and was able to take advantage of divisions within the ruling circles, the elites in Syria have been united against a divided opposition. Decades of human rights abuses, sectarian divisions, suppression of independent civil society institutions, ubiquitous secret police, and an overall culture of fear have made it difficult to build a unified opposition movement. Furthermore, the Israeli occupation of the southwestern region of the country, foreign invasions and occupations of neighboring Lebanon and Iraq, and periodic threats by Turkey, Israel and the United States have allowed the nationalistic regime to further solidify its control.

Another difference is that Assad is not a singular ruler, but part of a powerful oligarchy composed of top military officers, wealthy businessmen, Baath Party officials and others. Dictatorships that rest primarily on the power of just one man are generally more vulnerable in the face of popular revolt than are oligarchical systems where a broader network of elite interests has a stake in the system.

Syria has not had much experience in democracy. Its brief democratic period following independence was aborted by a CIA-supported coup in 1949. Following two decades of coups, countercoups, a brief union with Egypt, and chronic political instability, Defense Minister Hafez al-Assad seized power in 1970 and ruled until his death in 2000. Despite that the republican Baath movement was founded in large part on opposition to dynastic succession so common in the Arab world, Assad was succeeded by his son Bashar. The younger Assad, while allowing for an initial wave of liberalization upon first coming to power, soon cracked down on dissent. Indeed, the only liberalization subsequently has been on the economic front, and that has primarily benefited only a minority of Syrians and greatly increased social inequality.

Read complete story at Nation of Change.

Nonviolent Resistance

From Inter Press Service and Nation of Change
by Karina Bockmann
26 January 2012

The Logic and Limits of Nonviolent Conflict

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the uprisings in Egypt that unseated an authoritarian regime and rekindled the spark of nonviolent resistance around the world.

The mass demonstrations that began on Jan. 25 in Cairo appeared spontaneous, ignited by the Tunisian Jasmine Revolution some weeks before. But according to Srdja Popovic, a seasoned organizer and founder of the ‘Centre for Applied NonViolent Action & Strategies’ (CANVAS) in Belgrade, that assumption is far from the truth.

A consultancy group for nonviolent resistance movements around the world, CANVAS prides itself on having trained pro-democracy activists from almost 40 countries in nonviolent techniques and strategies.

Members of Egypt’s April 6 Youth Movement, a decisive force in bringing down former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, were disciples of the organization, which has been dubbed the ‘Revolution Academy’.

In CANVAS workshops, members of April 6 became familiar with forms of peaceful protest, creative provocation measures and practical advice on how to behave in critical situations. They took classes in fundraising and recruitment and gained valuable advice on how to attract new supporters to the movement.

Coupled with the revolutionary fervor that swept across Egypt throughout 2011 and is still visible on the streets today, CANVAS’ training of key young members of the resistance bore fruits of a legendary nature.

“2011 was the worst year for the bad guys ever,” said Popovic at a discussion in Berlin entitled, ‘Democracy Promotion – Democracy Export – Regime Change?’, referring to the many pro-democracy uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East that have come to be known as the Arab Spring.

Popovic easily counts himself as one of the ‘good guys’, given that he was a driving force behind the Serbian student movement Otpor! (meaning resistance) that peacefully toppled the ‘butcher of Belgrade’ Slobodan Milosevic from power in the year 2000.

Solid Strategies

Popovic is the executive director of CANVAS and, by extension, the chief trainer at the ‘Revolution Academy’.

A veteran organizer, he inspires professionalism, assertiveness and confidence when he speaks about the techniques of “how to get rid of a dictator” and of the importance of unity, planning and nonviolent discipline as “the universal principles of success.”

Assuming that a successful pro-democracy movement needs the support of just three to eight percent of the population, the chances of overthrowing dictators anywhere in the world are quite high, Popovic said, corroborating his assertion with the results of a report explaining ‘Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict’.

Authored by Erica Chenoweth, assistant professor of government at Wesleyan University, and Maria J. Stephan, a strategic planner with the U.S. Department of State, the report analyzed 323 violent and nonviolent resistance movements from 1900 to 2006 and concluded that “major nonviolent campaigns have achieved success 53 percent of the time, compared with 26 percent for violent resistance campaigns.”

Chenoweth and Stephan examine campaigns like Gandhi’s struggle for Indian Independence from British rule in 1947, the Solidarity movement in Poland in the 1980s, the civilian-based movements in Serbia (2000), Madagascar (2002), Georgia (2003) and Ukraine (2004) as well as the ousting of foreign troops in Lebanon (2005) and the restoration of civil rule in Nepal (2006) and the Maldives (2008).

The study bolsters the ‘democracy export’ policy introduced by former U.S. president Ronald Reagan back in 1983, which is as dynamic today as it was more than two decades ago – in fact, Washington invests roughly two billion dollars a year in nonviolent global interventions, or what critics of the model call ‘hidden U.S. imperialism’.

Both authors argue that nonviolent resistance has a strategic advantage over violent resistance. Repressing peaceful protests could backfire, resulting in a breakdown of obedience among regime supporters, mobilization of the population against the regime and international condemnation or sanctions, which often serve to weaken those in power.

The authors go a step further to predict that key members of the regime – including civil servants, security forces and members of the judiciary – “are more likely to shift loyalty toward nonviolent opposition groups than toward violent opposition groups.”

When repression by state forces is directed towards nonviolent campaigns, the report estimates the rate of defection by security forces to be as high as 46 percent.

Popovic also stressed that nonviolent strategies against authoritarian rule, as well as the use of social media tools rather than weapons, are, in general, far less risky endeavors for individuals involved in the movement.

Read entire story at Nation of Change.

Sparking the Arab Spring

From Read My Lips in The Globalist
28 December, 2011

Throughout 2011, protests in rich and poor countries alike have dominated the headlines — and shaped the political landscape. In this Read My Lips, we present economist Hernando de Soto’s recounting of the fate of Mohamed Bouazizi, the humble Tunisian fruit vendor who unleashed a tide of protest throughout the Arab world.

1. How did the revolution begin?

“It began when the 26-year-old Tarek Mohamed Bouazizi immolated himself in front of the governor’s offices in the Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid last December, after his merchandise was confiscated.”

2. What exactly happened?

“Bouazizi flicked his lighter on at 11:30am on December 17, 2010, one hour after a policewoman, backed by two municipal officers, had expropriated his two crates of pears ($15), a crate of bananas ($9), three crates of apples ($22) and an electronic weight scale ($179, second hand).”

3. Why did Bouazizi respond by immolating himself?

“While a total of $225 might not appear to justify suicide, the fact is that, as a businessman, Bouazizi had been summarily wiped out.”

4. How so?

“Without those goods, Bouazizi would not be able to feed his family for more than the next month. Since his merchandise had been bought on credit and he couldn’t sell it to pay his creditors back, he was now bankrupt. Because his working tools were confiscated, he had lost his capital.”

5. What happened next?

“Before a few weeks passed, many of the 180 million Arabs who work in and around the informal markets in the Middle East and North Africa were identifying with his disempowerment and sending their shouts to heaven.”

6. Why did his story resonate?

“Like 50% of all working Arabs, he was an entrepreneur, albeit on the margins of the law. He died trying to gain the right to hold property and do business without being hassled by corrupt authorities.”

7. In other words, what really triggered the Arab Spring?

“Not enough credit has been given to the mighty consensus that triggered the uprising — the desire of a vast underclass of people to work in a legal market economy.”

8. What lesson does Bouazizi’s story hold?

“The powerless can crystallize into a revolutionary class when they become conscious that they share a common suffering — and especially when a martyr embodies that suffering.”

9. What lesson should the region’s political leaders take to heart?

“Political leaders must realize that, since Bouazizi went up in flames and his peers rose in protest, poor Arabs are no longer outside but inside, in the market, right next to them.”

10. And finally, what happens if reforms fail?

“If the agenda does not include tackling the nitty-gritty institutional deficiencies that make most Arabs poor, they will eventually open the doors to the anti-democrats and enemies of modernity who fight democracy and modernity in their name.”

Editor’s Note: The quotes in this Read My Lips are drawn from Mr. de Soto’s November 8, 2011 op-ed in the Financial Times.

Read more at The Globalist.

2011 – Spreading Nonviolence

From Nation of Change
by Jake Olzen
29 December 2011

2012: The Year of Nonviolence?

If 2011 was the year of the protester, 2012 may prove to be the year of nonviolence. What’s the difference? It’s as great as between yes and no. A crucial awakening that envelopes humanity’s collective struggle for justice, peace and democracy is happening; it is an awakening that clarifies the circumstances we embrace with a yes and those by which we respond with a vehement no. Like many I know, I often teeter between despair and hope–stuck in a kind of uncomfortable tension resembling Wendell Berry’s poetic instruction to “be joyful though you have considered all the facts” –grasping for some measure of sanity to make sense of all that is happening.

It is tempting to succumb to despair, what with the onslaught of major media coverage telling us all the bad news, dismissing the promising news, and ignoring the good news. Consider the challenges: the unraveling violence of the Egyptian revolution, the 5,000 killed in Syria, climate change and the instability and disasters brought by extreme weather patterns and an ill-equipped global populace with inadequate leadership, the threat of random violence and terrorist activity–Norway, Belgium, India, the US, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq–and state and cultural violence against immigrants, women, refugees, the poor, GLBTQ persons, and people of color. So where is the hope? Well, in 2011, the fires of our hope were stoked by the global protest movements–the Arab Spring, the Indignados, Occupy Wall Street–of millions of people rising up to say: كفاية …Basta…Enough! Resistance was in the streets and occupations in city squares. A resounding “no” echoed around the world–what Bernard Harcourt has perceptively termed “political disobedience”–signifying contempt, dissatisfaction, and rejection of entrenched governments and status quo economics. Dictators were ousted in Egypt and Tunisia. Revolutionary fervor was sparked by nonviolent action in Libya, Syria and Yemen. South Korean activists are poised to possibly shutter the building of a controversial US naval base with profound geopolitical implications. Afghan youth are getting organized–an incredible feat considering all the challenges they face. Palestinian nonviolent resistance and the Free Gaza movement is growing as are Israeli protests for social justice. In the US, activists and organizers in Wisconsin and Ohio occupied their state capitals to protest budget cuts and GOP anti-unionism. Undocumented students–DREAMers–took it to the streets and Senators’ offices. Environmentalists, farmers, ranchers, students and citizens staged sit-ins at the White House to protest the Keystone XL Pipeline–whose fate is still TBD but the resistance is growing. And then there was Occupy Wall Street. The movement propelled American activism back into public purview and is proving to be the era where a generation of young people–equipped with the tools, knowledge and experience of the civil rights and anti-war generations–are cutting their teeth in nonviolent social change. We are telling ourselves that there is reason to hope because we incarnate it.

The protests of 2011 are the harbinger of what we’ve already known–what we’ve been waiting and working for–that neoliberalism’s carte blanche as signed by the Washington Consensus is on the way out. The days of political regimes that are not truly democratic (and, apparently, equitable) are–at the very least in ideological terms–numbered. In the 00s, there was an explosion of social commentary on globalization: Thomas Freidman, Naomi Klein, Paul Hawken, Vandana Shiva. Paul Kingsnorth, a British journalist, penned a book whose title has stayed with me: One No, Many Yeses. The catchy, chant-like title offers a simple way to reflect on the the historical moment we are experiencing. As symbolized by Time‘s “Person of the Year,” there is a global “no!” to anti-democratic governments and unfettered capitalism. But at the same time, that singular no of protest is united by the multitude of “yeses” whose global resonance signifies the arrival of a comprehensive vision of nonviolence.

This yes to nonviolence signals the awakening consciousness that summarily connects us to that which is most important in our lives and our communities: the desire to be connected, to live without fear, to be healthy and be in healthy relationships, to be free to have self-determining and mutually-supporting ways of living, working, parenting, learning, teaching, creating, and, yes, even dying. Never before have we witnessed the acute, raw, powerful desire for life in such a way that so many diverse peoples are willingly struggling for that way of being.

Read entire story at Nation of Change.

Democracy in Tunisia

Excerpt from The New York Times

Moderate Islamist Party Heads Toward Victory in Tunisia

By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
Published: October 24, 2011

TUNIS — Tunisia’s moderate Islamist political party emerged Monday as the acknowledged leader in elections for a constitutional assembly and began talks to form a unity government with a coalition of liberals in a rare alliance that party leaders hailed as an inclusive model for countries emerging from the tumult of the Arab Spring.

By Monday afternoon, Tunisian liberal parties said they were entering discussions to form a government led by their Islamist rival, Ennahda, after it swept to a plurality of about 40 percent in preliminary vote tallies. The acceptance of the results by rivals signaled the beginning of a partnership seldom seen in the Arab world, where Islamists’ few opportunities for victories at the voting booth have sometimes led to harsh crackdown or civil war.

In neighboring Algeria, an electoral victory by Islamists 20 years ago set off a military coup and a decade of bloodshed, and in the Palestinian territories, the sweep to victory of Hamas in 2006 elections led to a showdown with the West, a split in the government and armed conflict in Gaza.

Tunisia’s was the first election of the Arab Spring, held to form an assembly that will govern while it writes a constitution, 10 months after the ouster of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

Islamists cheered the results as a harbinger of their ascent after revolts across the region. Islamists in Egypt are poised for big victories in parliamentary elections next month and their counterparts in Libya are playing dominant roles in its post-Qaddafi transition.

“This proves that there is no Islamist exception, no Arab exception about democracy,” said Essam el-Erian, a leader of the new political party formed by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. “We are as democratic as any country.”

In Tunisia and elsewhere some are wary of the Islamists’ surge, arguing that party leaders sound moderate now but harbor a conservative religious agenda. Tunisia, arguably closer to Europe than the other states swept up in the political upheaval of the past year, is widely viewed as having the best chance of establishing a genuinely pluralistic model of government.

Leaders of Ennahda noted that their party championed a greater commitment to the principles of Western-style liberal democracy than any other Islamist party in the region, and they said they hoped their example would help lead other Islamists in a similar liberal direction.

“We are the most progressive Islamic party in the region,” said Soumaya Ghannoushi, a British newspaper columnist and a scholar at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. She is the daughter of Ennahda’s founder and acts as a party spokeswoman.

“Accepting each other, accepting pluralism, accepting diversity and trying to work together — this is the lesson Ennahda can give to other Islamic political movements,” she said.

In countries like Egypt, where Islamists are more ideologically divided, Ennahda’s victory was sure to embolden those who favor a more liberal approach, including some within Egypt’s mainstream Muslim Brotherhood as well as breakaway groups like the New Center Party or a new party founded by former leaders of the Brotherhood Youth — groups already drawn toward the thought of Ennahda’s founder. But in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood also faces competition from new parties formed by ultraconservatives, known as Salafis, who seek an explicitly Islamic state.

Those already inclined to follow the Ennahda example “are not the most important players right now in the Islamist movement in Egypt,” argued Prof. Samer Shehata, a scholar of the region at Georgetown University. As a result, he said, Egypt’s secular liberals are likely to view the strong showing of Tunisia’s Islamists with “great concern.”

The final margin of victory for Ennahda remained to be seen Monday as Tunisian authorities continued to tabulate results. In the interest of transparency, officials counted the votes in the presence of observers in each polling place after closing Sunday night and posted the tally on the door, enabling political parties to compile their own rough estimates by Monday afternoon. Though reliable statistics were unavailable, observers said turnout had exceeded expectations. Some voters waited in line for as many as six hours.

In a news conference to announce its success, an Ennahda spokesman said the party had confirmed winning a plurality of more than 30 percent of the vote and the largest share in every district. A top party official, Ali Larayedh, said in an interview that Ennahda expected that the final result would be closer to 50 percent.

Read Complete Article at: NEW YORK TIMES

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