For weeks, opponents of Egypt’s military-led transitional government have held mass sit-ins in Cairo, Alexandria, and elsewhere in an attempt to force the generals to reinstate President Mohamed Morsi. In doing so, they are following the tactics of the activists who have occupied China’s Tiananmen Square to protest communism, the Philippines’ Epifanio de los Santos Avenue to demand the ouster of President Ferdinand Marcos, the United States’ National Mall to denounce the Vietnam War, and countless others.
But tactics are not the same as a strategy. In a study of nonviolent campaigns from 1900 to 2006, no popular movement that relied on a single method alone — such as sit-ins — worked. Effective civil resistance involves a number of skillfully sequenced moves that increase broad-based, diverse participation, allow participants to avoid repression, and lead regime loyalists to defect. Without a broader strategy based around these steps, sit-ins can end in catastrophe.