Experiments with Truth: Analysis

Ruthless regimes not impervious to civil resistance

Maged Mandour’s article on openDemocracy, “Beyond Civil Resistance: The Case of Syria”, argues that civil resistance has been marginalized in the Syrian insurrection because it doesn’t work  against “ruthless” regimes. But history doesn’t support that conclusion.

The outcome of a nonviolent insurrection against an autocratic regime is determined by any number of factors, such as its ability to mobilize a critical mass of the population, the overall strategy and skillful sequencing of tactics, the effectiveness in targeting the regime’s pillars of support, and the ability to cause divisions within the ruling elite and to encourage defections within security services. But as Drs. Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan note in their book, Why Civil Resistance Works (Columbia University Press, 2011), these dynamic actions are effective in part because they avert or minimize the effects of ruthless force by an oppressor.

Indeed, history is replete with examples of ruthless governments – such as apartheid South Africa, Suharto’s Indonesia and Pinochet’s Chile which, like the regime in Syria, demonstrated their willingness and ability to massacre opponents by the thousands – which have been ousted by movements using civil resistance as the driving vector of their struggle.  There are many other cases, including the Philippines, East Germany, and Tunisia, in which dictators have ordered their troops to massacre protesters by the thousands yet – unlike in Syria – the troops defied their commands. There is little systematic evidence to suggest that “ruthlessness” is, in and of itself, a critical variable.

More Follow External Link to Stephen Zunes and Jack DuVall, openDemocracy