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Civil Resistance as a Powerful (and more Effective) Alternative to Violence

The hope that "people power" can successfully challenge dictatorships and usher in new and improved governing systems seems to be dashed. Ongoing carnage in Syria, continued instability in Libya, political assassination and restlessness in Tunisia, a bloody counter-revolution in Egypt, and bloody crackdowns against Ukrainian protestors in the Euromaidan would make anyone skeptical about the promise of nonviolent resistance against oppressive regimes.

This skepticism is understandable but misplaced. Two years ago, Erica Chenoweth and I published a book called Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict. In analyzing data from 1900 through 2006, we discovered a simple finding: that campaigns of nonviolent resistance were twice as likely to succeed as campaigns of violent resistance, and that nonviolent campaigns ushered in greater chances of democracy and civil peace than armed struggle. This was true even in highly authoritarian, repressive, and powerful countries where we would think nonviolent resistance to fail.

In fact, despite recent cynicism about the power of nonviolent resistance, a number of contemporary cases suggest that the historical record still holds. Civil resistance remains a superior strategy of social and political change in the face of oppression, and movements that opt for violence often unleash terrible destruction and bloodshed-in both the short and long term-usually without realizing the goals they set out to achieve.