The views expressed are his own.
The most electrifying event of the year, for me, was the Egyptian revolution. I’d long had an interest in Gandhian-style struggles. Here was a nonviolent struggle unfolding in real-time against Hosni Mubarak’s repressive regime. Tens of millions of people were gaining their freedom.
The media coverage of the events in Tahrir Square focused on the Facebook revolution. But when I went to Cairo shortly after, I discovered that the use of social media was only part of the reason why the dictator had been toppled. Behind the protests was a cadre of activists who had been trained in the techniques of nonviolent struggle. This realization was a eureka moment. If it was possible to overthrow dictators with comparatively little bloodshed – less than a thousand died in Egypt’s revolution — many millions more elsewhere might be able to gain their freedom given proper planning and training.
2011 was a banner year for nonviolent struggle. Not only did it witness the successful Arab Spring revolutions against dictators in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen; it also saw three Arab kings – in Morocco, Jordan and Kuwait — liberalize their political systems to head off similar protests. And the brave people of Syria went out on the streets again and again, despite being arrested, tortured and killed in their thousands.
Further afield, the Burmese regime started to reach an accommodation with pro-democracy activist, Aung San Suu Kyi, after two decades of nonviolent opposition; China experienced increasing stirrings of protest, for example when citizens posted nude photos of themselves on the internet after the authorities ruled that a photo of Ai Weiwei, the dissident artist, was pornographic; and even Vladimir Putin had to face demonstrations after seemingly widespread vote-rigging in Russia’s parliamentary elections.
The techniques of nonviolent struggle have also been used for purposes other than bringing down dictatorships. A man called Anna Hazare led a successful campaign against corruption in India. Meanwhile, the West had to contend with the Indignant anti-austerity movements in Spain, Greece and Italy as well as the anti-banker Occupy movements in the United States and Britain.