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August 26th, 2011 at 9:32 am

Erica Chenoweth on Nonviolence and the Libyan Uprising

Erica Chenoweth, Why Civil Resistance WorksRecent events in the Arab world have given Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan’s Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict an important timeliness.

Erica Chenoweth recently wrote Think Again: Nonviolent Resistance, published in Foreign Policy, which we will feature next week. She also just published an article on the web site Waging Nonviolence in which she examines the question of whether nonviolence resistance could have worked succeeded in Libya.

Chenoweth admits that “the success of the Libyan uprising will, no doubt, be remembered as a successful case of violent insurgency.” However, as she argues, a nonviolent resistance never had time to take hold. Qaddafi’s crackdown on peaceful protest turned violent very quickly which led rebels to adopt violence. Nonviolent campaigns, Chenoweth points out, need time to organize and to develop other methods of resistance such as boycotts, work slowdowns, etc. The turn to violence by Libyan rebels put them in a precarious position and gave Qaddafi a pretext for adopting extremely harsh measures. While Chenoweth admits that Qaddafi would have undoubtedly repressed a nonviolent protest movement, she suggests that “adopting violence put the rebels at a major force disadvantage, and it’s unlikely that they would have succeeded without NATO’s air support.”

Erica Chenoweth concludes by citing reports of the role civil resistance did play in the success of the Libyan uprising. She writes:

Khaled Darwish’s op-ed in the New York Times today seems to corroborate this account, describing how women and children rushed into the streets of Tripoli before the rebel advance, how civilians blocked apartment rooftops from snipers, and how they sang and chanted over loudspeakers in unity against Qaddafi’s regime. If these descriptions are true, then civil resistance had a pretty important part in the “endgame” of the Libyan revolution, and as such, deserves at least some credit for the opposition’s victory.

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