Friday, February 4, 2011

A Recent Conversation on Egypt and Nonviolent Protest

Friend 1: "It's amazing that it's possible to bring down a government simply by amassing large numbers of people (peacefully). Thoughts on why demonstrations and protests are so much less efficacious in America?"

Friend 2: "I feel like it's because in general we are more content with our lives and the government. Although it does seem like when I read the news, people seem less and less satisfied with the government but honestly, I think most people realize how good they have it there (in the US)."

Me: "Great blog to check out on this very issue is They go into why nonviolence is/isn't effective in specific situations. My guess on the US is that many protests are purely symbolic, no one is really putting their lives/careers on the line for the cause. Whereas in Egypt the simple act of a public gathering is a seditious act and not just symbolic. It shows the strength of people's commitment to change. Of course, if this drags on, their tactics will need to evolve. There may be other issues to, like perhaps the US is better able to co-opt the message of any protesting group. There is a veneer of respectability in the US that is harder to penetrate, whereas someone who is openly a dictator is a much easier target. If one hundred thousand US citizens engaged in obvious public nonviolent civil disobedience, eg over immigration reform or to close Guantanamo, daily for ten days you will probably see more effectiveness."

Friend 3: "I agree. There are protests and protests. Symbolic protests are just so. Real protests in countries where the very right of protesting is almost nonexistent can be quite effective. But look what happens in Egypt. Almost two weeks of protests and the dictator won't budge..."

Friend 4: "let's not kid ourselves: the protests we are seeing in the middle east are not entirely peaceful. the implicit threat that the large groups of people become more unhappy and less peaceful if their demands are not met is part of the reason behind their effectiveness."

Me to Friend 3: "It may look like the dictator isn't budging, but he's making all the classic moves of a dictator in his last throws of power."

Me to Friend 4: "The protesters are not less peaceful because their demands are not being met, rather because of provocation by hired thugs. It's a strategy used by incumbent regimes of all kinds to turn public sentiment away from the core concerns. The protesters need to gain better discipline. As far as I know, there have been no threats made otherwise. The large group can be seen as a a potentially violent threat. It can also be seen as a statement saying, "do what you like, you are no longer relevant and we will choose how to live from now on.""

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