Erica Chenoweth: Changing Sides in Egypt — What Happened to Nonviolence?

Erica Chenoweth & Maria Stephan
Erica Chenoweth & Maria Stephan

The editors at Waging Nonviolence have posted an excellent essay by Erica Chenoweth analyzing what’s happening to Egypt’s nonviolence movement.

Chenoweth and her research partner Maria Stephan wrote the award-winning Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Non-Violent Conflict.

Here’s an excerpt from Erica’s recent article:

Millions of people demonstrated throughout Egypt over the past month, once again demanding the fall of the regime. Former president Mohammed Morsi’s regime fought back, but the people stayed. Finally, the army stepped in and forced the ruler to step down. “The people and the army are one hand!” chanted the crowds. Masses of ordinary Egyptians, it would seem, compelled one part of the regime to turn against the other and bring about change.

Or perhaps that isn’t what happened at all.

Scholars of civil resistance often argue that one key mechanism for change is defections — in which key loyalists and functionaries withdraw their support from the power structure. Examples include transportation workers during the California farm workers’ movement, security forces during the People Power campaign in the Philippines, or the so-called “refuseniks,” the Israeli soldiers who declined to serve in the occupied Palestinian territories during the First Intifada. In reviewing the historical record of more than 100 civil resistance campaigns between 1900 and 2006, Maria Stephan and I found that security-force defections dramatically increase the chances for nonviolent resistance to succeed. Such changes of course among elites can go a long way toward bringing about the will of the people.

But recent events in Libya, Syria and Egypt suggest that defections can also carry considerable risks for nonviolent campaigns. In the cases of Libya and Syria, nonviolent action led to defections among the armed forces early on in the conflicts. However, the defectors took their weapons with them, regrouped as armed challengers, and essentially undermined and supplanted nonviolent campaigns by initiating armed struggle. —Erica Chenoweth, Changing sides doesn’t always make for transformation — just look at Egypt (Waging Nonviolence)

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