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Archive for the ‘Arab Spring’ Category

So many lessons learned already in the first day of our symposium on the unarmed revolution at Cairo University. Here are a few flashes:

Egypt’s uprising has been described as an internet revolution, but the regime did not fall because of Facebook messages and tweets. It was overthrown by the determined resistance of millions of people in the streets. Estimates we’ve heard range from 8 to 12 million across the country. One of the professors said yesterday, no fewer than 15 million. We’ll reserve judgment on the final number pending more research, but this much is clear: This was one of the largest outpourings of mass civil resistance in human history.

The people faced brutal police repression and attacks by thugs. They died by the hundreds from bullets and beatings. Thousands were injured. Yet they returned to the streets day after day in ever increasing numbers. An incredible display of mass civic courage—similar to what we are witnessing today in the streets of Syria and Yemen. (more…)

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I’m in Egypt this week for a symposium the Kroc Institute is co-sponsoring with Cairo University and the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict on “learning lessons from the unarmed revolution in Egypt.” It is exciting to be in Cairo in the wake of the remarkable 18-day uprising that brought down the Mubarak dictatorship. As I stepped off the plane last night I felt a special sense of excitement and joy at entering a newly liberated country.

I know Egypt faces many problems and contradictions. The revolution was incomplete, and many crises and challenges lie ahead. All of this will become clear, I’m sure, as we study the political and social dynamics of the revolution in the coming days. For now, though, I want to bask in the enormity of what the Egyptian people have accomplished. They have demonstrated the power of mass nonviolent resistance. They have proven again that a people united in their determination to be free are a mighty force for change.

Let us hope the people of Egypt can succeed in forging a successful transition to a more democratic, prosperous and secure future.

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It is obvious by now that the rebels cannot defeat Gaddafi’s forces. Replacing the dictatorship with a more representative government remains the best strategy for protecting civilians and advancing democracy, but that goal will not be achieved by a ragtag rebellion and limited international air support.

Coalition air strikes have had some success so far in preventing civilian massacres and providing cover for resistance forces. But the operations themselves have taken Libyan lives, and supporting the insurgents has become more difficult as Gaddafi’s defenders have shed uniforms and military vehicles. The further utility of military force is questionable.

The U.S. and NATO should pursue diplomatic options. Two of Gaddafi’s sons recently proposed a negotiated transition in which their father steps down in favor of a constitutional democracy. Most observers dismissed the offer, but it may provide an opening that could be exploited by creative diplomacy. An offer to suspend NATO-led air operations could provide powerful leverage for negotiation to gain real concessions. (more…)

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I’ve been going through a bit of an identity crisis over what to say about the intervention in Libya. I abhor war and have spent most of my life trying to stop US military interventions, from Vietnam to Afghanistan. I never favor militarist solutions.

Yet I find the current operation partially justified. Already it has saved many civilian lives. As Juan Cole notes, Gaddafi’s tanks and planes killed thousands of Libyans in the weeks before the intervention, and they were poised to slaughter many more before they were stopped last week. The international air strikes have halted the regime’s advances and enabled the opposition to recapture lost ground.

The intervention is supported by the Libyan liberation movement and has multilateral authority and participation, with backing from the Arab League and UN Security Council. It is an unprecedented attempt by the international community to exercise the ‘responsibility to protect.’  So far the use of force has been targeted and has not resulted in many civilian casualties. (more…)

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The political and diplomatic prospects for imposing a no-fly zone over Libya advanced significantly yesterday (March 2). The Arab League, meeting in Cairo, said it will consider the possibility of imposing such a zone and will discuss the matter with members of the African Union.

This is very good news for the prospects of united international action against Gaddafi. It follows the nonbinding resolution adopted unanimously by the U.S. Senate on Tuesday (March 1) urging the UN Security Council to impose the no-fly zone. Russia, China, and other Security Council members have been reluctant until now, but if the Arab League and African Union approve, there would be little justification for further reluctance. The pieces are falling into place for establishing the necessary legal authority and political backing for decisive multilateral action to save Libyan lives and speed Gaddafi’s departure.

The Obama administration should mount a full-court diplomatic press, working directly with the Arab League, the African Union, and the UN Security Council, to prepare a resolution giving UN authorization for the no-fly zone. If Gaddafi continues to terrorize and bomb his population as he has done in recent days, the Security Council should authorize immediate action to establish the no-fly zone. The Pentagon should work with Arab and African partners along with NATO allies to facilitate preparations for the no-fly mission and ensure that if action becomes necessary it is a genuine multilateral operation in which Arab and African states participate fully. This will ensure united international support for the Libyan people and hopefully set a precedent for effective multilateral action to protect civilians from murderous dictators.

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My thoughts on a no-fly zone in Libya appear here in the New York Times online comment forum.

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An activist tweeted the other day that we should ‘celebrate world revolution.’ Certainly the social upheaval sweeping through Egypt, Tunisia, and other countries in the Middle East is one of the most dramatic expressions of ‘people power’ in history. Never before have the people of the region mobilized in such vast numbers to shake off the chains of autocracy. We can’t help but cheer when corrupt dictatorships crumble and oppressed people courageously resist illegitimate authority.

But will these momentous events lead to genuine democracy and a more peaceful future for the region? It’s impossible to say at this early date, but here are some observations.

While the revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, and other countries have been mostly nonviolent, they do not fit the classic Gandhian model or follow the principles of strategic nonviolent conflict. Most of the people taking to the streets have faced repression with remarkable restraint and bravery, but some protestors have attacked military and police forces. Hundreds of demonstrators have been killed by state security forces, but casualties have been inflicted on the other side as well.

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