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Analysis: Civil resistance is more effective than violence in achieving democracy.
The protesters in Egypt have achieved significant gains already including Mubarak’s pledge to leave office in September, the sacking of government ministers and wage increases for workers. But expectations that Mubarak would go quickly, as was the case with Tunisia’s President Ben Ali, may be premature. Mubarak and his cronies are digging in their heels and attempting to slow the process, claiming that Egypt is not yet ready for democracy. The struggle is likely to be a long one and will require persistence and discipline from the protesters.
A key factor in the outcome will be the role of Egypt’s armed forces. Mubarak has used the military as the bulwark of his oppressive rule, but there are signs that military officials may be hedging their bets. As the protesters gathered momentum last week, the armed forces declared they would not use force “against our great people.” The military seems to be attempting to remain neutral.
This is good news for the democracy movement. During the Orange Revolution in Ukraine resistance leaders negotiated with senior commanders to reassure the military and keep it on the sidelines. In Egypt protesters must attempt to do the same and must avoid violent or confrontational tactics that might force the military to choose sides against them.
It’s too early to tell whether these events will lead to genuine democracy and a more peaceful future for the region. One thing is certain. Nonviolent resistance has emerged as a potent force for social change and is transforming the politics of Egypt and the wider Middle East.
David Cortright is the director of policy studies at the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, where he has taught since 1989. He is the author or editor of 17 books, including “Peace: A History of Movements and Ideas” (Cambridge University Press) and “Uniting Against Terror: Cooperative Nonmilitary Responses to the Global Terrorist Threat” (MIT Press), with George A. Lopez. Cortright blogs at http://davidcortright.net.