Monday, January 9, 2012

Talking About A Revolution

#Jan25Mistakes: when SCAF staged a silent military coup on the shoulders of the revolution, almost nobody noticed. #Egypt

On Jan 25, 2012, the so called Egyptian revolution will celebrate its first birthday. What has been achieved so far? Not much, if you believe my good twitter compadre @nagoul1. On Jan 2, 2012, in anticipation of the upcoming anniversary later this month, he published a whole series of tweets dealing with the shortcomings of the revolution that started one year ago, using the hashtag #Jan25Mistakes. 

#Jan25Mistakes: people were too optimistic too soon. We started talking about #NewEgypt before ensuring that we had brought down the old one.

After reading @nagoul1's tweets, I went back to my book shelf to take a new look at Gene Sharp's "from Dictatorship to Democracy - a conceptual framework for liberation". Gene Sharp, a former professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, has written extensively about nonviolent struggles and how to win them. Sharp's best known book dates back to 1973. "The politics of nonviolent action" provides a pragmatic political analysis of nonviolent action as a method for applying power in a conflict. Interestingly enough, "from Dictatorship to Democracy" was first published in Burma, in 1993. 

#Jan25Mistakes: we under-estimated the effects of 59 years of military propaganda on the collective mind of the population. #Egypt.

Sharp is a ardent advocate for the nonviolent fight. By placing confidence in violent means, so Sharp, one has chosen the very type of struggle with which the oppressors nearly always have superiority. Foreign intervention carries a heavy burden as well. Some foreign states, writes Sharp, will act against a dictatorship only to gain their own economic, political, or military control over the country. Sound familiar? Sharp: Liberation from dictatorship ultimately depends on the people's ability to liberate themselves.

planning, discipline, planning: Gene Sharp

#Jan25Mistakes: the revolution failed to topple #Egypt's intelligence service, which is to this day running things from behind the scenes.

Dictators require power in order to rule and they need the assistance of the people to do so. Every revolutionary movement must identify the sources of power of a dictatorship first and then specifically target these sources. Over time, the withholding of sources can produce the paralysis and, according to Sharp, the impotence of the regime, and even its disintegration.

#Jan25Mistakes: we failed to influence the silent majority in any way. They still think the #Egyptian army officers are heroes! #Egypt

Every dictatorship has its weaknesses. Every dictatorship has its Achilles' heel. The system may become routine in its operation, less able to adjust quickly to new situations. The ideology may erode, and myths and symbols of the system may become unstable. The general public may over time become apathetic, skeptical, and even hostile to the regime. But what if the silent majority is not willing to stage a revolution, when it prefers an unhealthy stability over a potentially healthy instability? The revolutionary movement needs to convince the silent masses to support their system-defying cause. A minority may stage a coup d'état, might kill a dictator. But for Sharp, only a nonviolent cause of action, carried out or at least backed by a majority, can lead to a sustainable regime change and the establishment of a democratic order.

#Jan25Mistakes: we failed to hold and maintain ongoing sit-ins, and stuck to 1 day protests which are nowhere as effective. #Egypt.

How can a revolutionary movement exercise power? Through political defiance. In his book, Gene Sharp names 198 specific methods of nonviolent actions, ranging from nonviolent protests - public speeches, or mock awards - to social noncooperation - student strikes, or simply staying at home - to various methods of economic noncooperation such as a consumers' boycott and protest strikes. The common error, as Sharp explains, of past improvised political defiance campaigns is the reliance on only one or two methods, such as strikes and mass demonstrations.

#Jan25Mistakes: the Egyptian army controls over 1/3 of the economy. Nobody even thought about #boycotting their consumer products! #Egypt

Remember, there are 198 ways to topple your dictator. But as you are well aware, your dictator won't like your ways. Nevertheless: nonviolent discipline is a key to success and must be maintained despite provocations and brutalities by the dictators and their agents.

#Jan25Mistakes: we are planning to make, more or less, the same mistakes on #Jan25two - another 1 day protest at #Tahrir.

Spontaneity is great and it certainly has many advantages, but it will not necessarily win a revolution. A carefully crafted and executed revolution has a much better chance to succeed. The choice of means is a decisive part of any revolution. In making this choices the strategists will need to consider such questions as: is the chosen type of struggle within the capacities of the democrats? Does this technique target the weaknesses of the dictatorship, or does it strike at its strongest points? Just bringing out people to the streets in large numbers is not good enough. Parades against dictatorships may be dramatic, but they may also risk thousands of dead demonstrators. The high cost to demonstrators may not, however, actually apply more pressure on the dictatorship than would occur through everyone staying home, a strike, or massive acts of noncooperation from the civil servants. Note here, Sharp goes on, that the objective is not simply to destroy the current dictatorship but to emplace a democratic system. A grand strategy that limits its objective to merely destroying the incumbent dictatorship runs a great risk of producing another tyrant.

tapes to the masses: Ayatollah Khomenei

#Jan25Mistakes: too much of our "activism" has been online and not enough on the ground. We failed to reach the (wo)men in the street. #Egypt

Ayatollah Khomenei, prior to the Iranian revolution in 1979, distributed many of his messages to the silent masses in Iran on tapes. I bet you that more people in Iran had access to a tape recorder then than people in Egypt have access to the internet today. 

#Jan25Mistakes: too many people listened to and followed the high-profile #LeaderFags [sic!] and #MediaStarlets on their ego trips. #Egypt

Quoting Sharp again: "Liberation from dictatorship is possible. But very careful thought and strategic planning will be required to achieve it. And: vigilance, hard work, and disciplined struggle, often at great cost, will be needed." People in Egypt, and in Syria for that matter, must ask themselves who is going to do the planning and all the hard offline work that is needed to remove the dark, heavy cloud that is the current regime? It's not the people on tv and on social media that will make the crucial difference. It's the people in the streets, or wherever the revolutionary planners chose their place of confrontation, that will. If the revolution's struggles keep oscillating between mass gatherings on Tahrir (well, much less than 1% of the Egyptian population at best) and storming barricades in the adjacent streets, Jan 25 will be remembered as a day in 2011 when the Egyptian junta started a military coup against its civilian leader, Mubarak, who had become too greedy for his own good.

The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists are the clear winner of the first three rounds of elections that have taken place in Egypt since November 2011. While the masses were waving flags on Tahrir, or fighting with the army and the police at Maspero, the Ikhwan were busy reading Sharp's manual and displaying it on their website, according to a report in New York Times. You can do the same by downloading "from Dictatorship to Democracy" here.