by Erica Chenoweth
Could nonviolent resistance have succeeded in Libya? Here are four points worth considering.
1) The movement was fairly spontaneous, unlike the highly coordinated campaign in Egypt. As Peter Ackerman consistently points out, planning is an essential element to a successful nonviolent revolution. As with any battlefield, a nonviolent campaign requires extensive preparation. But reports seem to indicate that Libyans began protesting in earnest around Feburary 15th, likely inspired by events in neighboring Egypt and Tunisia. Qaddafi seemed prepared for this and immediately cracked down using overwhelming violence. By February 19th, the movement had become violent in response to these crackdowns. Four days of civil resistance doesn’t give it much time to work. Egyptian pro-democracy activists struggled for years before seeing Mubarak fall. Syrian oppositionists, thousands of whom have been killed by Bashar al-Assad’s regime, have toiled along for the past six months. So, we can’t really say whether or not nonviolence would have worked in Libya. It never had a chance to materialize in the first place.
2) The peaceful part of the Libyan campaign primarily consisted of protest activity. Such tactics are visible and disruptive, but also highly vulnerable to repression. In Unarmed Insurrections, Kurt Schock argues that when movements rely too much on rallies or protests, they become extremely predictable. Successful movements will combine protests and demonstrations with well-timed strikes, boycotts, go-slows, stay-aways, and other actions that force the regime to disperse its repression in unsustainable ways. During the Iranian Revolution, oil workers went on strike, threatening to cripple the Iranian economy. The Shah’s security forces went to the oil workers’ homes and dragged them back to the refineries, only for the workers to work at half pace before staging another walk-out. This type of repression is untenable because it requires a massive coordination of regime resources and effort. The bottom line is that nonviolent movements always have options when they face violent repression—options that do not involve selecting violence. The downside is that these methods take time to plan and coordinate. But choosing violence carries just as many downsides—including the fact that violent rebellion tends to succeed about 50% less often than nonviolent resistance. Read the rest of this entry →