By Hugo Dixon
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
It was 2006. A young Syrian called Ausama Monajed was on a train to London. One of his hobbies was reading e-books. On this trip, he picked Gene Sharp’s From Dictatorship to Democracy, which maps out strategies for using non-violent struggle to bring down repressive regimes.
Monajed, now one of the revolution’s leaders outside the country, became engrossed. “It was as if I was reading an exact description of Syria,” Monajed told Reuters Breakingviews. The next thing he noticed was a conductor tapping him on the shoulder. The train had arrived at its terminus in Euston Station. “He asked me if I wanted to return where I’d come from.”
Sharp, who was inspired by India’s Mohandas Gandhi and who himself influenced some of the activists behind the Egyptian revolution, stresses that a dictator’s power isn’t monolithic. It relies on the army, police, civil service, business and, indeed, the wider society just to function. Activists should therefore analyze those pillars of support and systematically undermine them.
The best way to do this is not to fight dictators with their own weapons -– matching violence with violence in a struggle they are likely to lose – but to use non-violent tactics. It is much harder for the security forces to kill unarmed civilians than those who fire back at you. The more brutally the regime represses them, the shakier its pillars of support become. Eventually, the violence boomerangs on the regime and destroys it.