How Thai Activists Outsmarted the Generals

Article Source: Journal of Democracy 

By Srdja Popovic and Steve Parks

For the most ardent defenders of global democracy, recent days seems a disappointment: In Turkey’s elections on May 14—despite optimistic polling and the opposition’s solid, united campaign—the ruling party kept its parliamentary majority, and the increasingly autocratic president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, beat the opposition candidate by five percentage points. He is likely to prevail in the May 28 runoff.

But the overwhelming media focus on Turkey obscured a big win for democracy on the other side of the world. On the same day Turks went to the polls, Thailand’s opposition scored a thunderous success in that country’s election. The Thai opposition exceeded the most optimistic predictions, with the progressive Move Forward party winning an estimated 151 of the 500 seats in parliament, and another opposition party, Peu Thai, capturing 141 seats. The conservative ruling incumbent, United Thai Nation Party, meanwhile, won only 36 seats. For Thailand’s military junta, it was a colossal and unexpected loss.

So, as we read dozens of articles about what went wrong in Turkey, it is worth asking: How did the Thai opposition prevail on an equally tilted electoral field? What tactics did they deploy, and what lessons might they teach those resisting autocracy around the world?

Strategies of Resistance

Soon after seizing power in a 2014 coup, Thailand’s military junta solidified its rule by rewriting the constitution. The regime hollowed out democracy enough to preserve the thinnest veneer of electoral legitimacy while ensuring it had the tools to make sure it keeps power. The junta’s “creative” solution was to add a senate, whose 250 seats are appointed by the military, to sit alongside the democratically elected 500-seat parliament. Since the prime minister needs a majority in both houses, the constitution effectively gives the military a 250-vote advantage.

In another move straight from the authoritarian playbook, the Thai government has heavily abused the legal system to target its critics. In late 2019, the regime trumped up charges to disband the second-largest opposition party, Future Forward, and to jail most of its leadership—spurring months of student protests. With that perceived threat neutralized, the Thai government, much like Russia’s and Turkey’s, passed a series of laws in 2021 to contain civil society—a typical antidemocratic move.

Thailand’s leadership also went to great lengths to tame and control social media in 2019 and 2020, introducing a set of sweeping online regulations under which any criticism can be labeled as “attacking the monarchy” or violating other poorly defined provisions. These regulations led to the prosecution of more than 250 young activists and opposition figures.

Despite these heavy blows, Thailand’s prodemocratic forces adapted and innovated to survive. As fast as dictators are learning from each other, their opponents are adapting to and outsmarting their attacks. Faced with the creeping authoritarianism of former Serbian president Slobodan Milošević in the leadup to the 2000 election, my (Srdja Popovic’s) movement, Otpor! (Resistance!), crafted a four-part response: 1) uniting the opposition, 2) mobilizing young voters, 3) training thirty-thousand election monitors to document and prevent electoral fraud, and 4) combining mass protests with a general strike to force Milošević to concede once he had lost. The Thai opposition not only employed all of these tactics, but they developed several of their own:

Recovering and regrouping. In the face of crackdowns, opposition parties came back stronger. The 2019 banning of the Future Forward party and jailing of its leadership led its MPs to form the Move Forward party under the leadership of the young and charismatic Pita Limjaroenrat. The other main opposition party, Pheu Thai, had seen two of its leaders—former prime ministers Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister Yingluck—ousted from power, prosecuted, and exiled. After regrouping, the party benefited from the leadership of Thaksin’s daughter, Paetongtarn Shinawatra. In both cases, government crackdowns backfired, sparking well-organized nationwide protests that shredded the regime’s popularity and inspired young Thais to enter politics.

Unifying. As the election date was set, opposition parties turned their attention to the question of unity, which is one of the primary elements of successful nonviolent movements. To broaden its appeal, the Thai opposition decided to run on two different tickets—as they correctly calculated that each party would appeal to very different parts of the electorate—but did so with the clear intention to form a united coalition after the elections. It worked out well, as the Move Forward party captured youth voters and large urban centers, while the more traditional Pheu Thai dominated rural and working-class areas in the country’s northeast. Only days after election, the two parties formed a governing coalition.

Bypassing censorship. Faced with a censored internet and the threat of prosecution for online criticism, the opposition behaved “like water” to find its way to millions. To stay at the top of news feeds while avoiding censorship, opposition figures disguised their online posts as nonpolitical. The most-watched video on Move Forward’s official TikTok account (with more than thirteen-million views), for instance, shows Pita demonstrating different uses of a traditional Thai loincloth. Move Forward also created a TikTok filter of him waving, which party backers can overlay onto their own videos to discreetly show their support. The party’s efforts worked miracles: Pita’s youthful image was ubiquitous on social media, and the government was unable to censor it.

Offline, the opposition adopted a guerilla-grassroots campaigning strategy, organizing thousands of small, low-risk events at local fairs and markets across the country. Its supporters also made creative use of the “Hunger Games” three-finger salute to identify and show solidarity with one another.

Joining forces with civil society and mobilizing youth. The 2020 protests in Thailand, sparked by the prohibition of the Future Forward Party, gave birth to a vivid and active youth NGO scene. For example, the Thai Youth Anti-Corruption Network mobilized students from more than ninety universities to use social-media platforms for sharing ideas, photos, and information about anticorruption campaigns. Their efforts were funded by on-campus coffee shops run by students. The opposition closely cooperated with Thailand’s NGOs to mobilize support beyond political parties, educate voters, and recruit and train thousands of election monitors, who were often accompanied by trained NGO activists while in the field. These efforts proved effective in not only preventing potential fraud, but also in mobilizing opposition-leaning but otherwise nonpartisan young people, who voted in historically unprecedented numbers.

These tactics played a critical role in helping the Thai opposition to prevail despite the government’s best efforts, and they may help other prodemocratic movements to challenge the world’s ever-growing band of autocrats. But we should never forget that strongmen in Turkey, Thailand, and beyond have repeatedly shown us that they don’t know how to accept defeat. Whether by manipulating election results, weaponizing courts against the opposition, or resorting to more extreme measures such as coups d’état (which have frequently occurred in Thailand), autocrats will do everything they can to hold on to power. Although the opposition has prevailed in Thailand, it remains to be seen if the political elite will allow them to govern. But one thing is clear above all: However hard the bad guys may try to crush democracy, they will never succeed as long as the opposition stays smart, creative, and one step ahead. 

Examining Non-state Stakeholders’ Role in Modern Nonviolent Conflict

The article was published in The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, Summer 2022 edition:




This essay addresses some of the challenges that nonviolent activist movements encounter when navigating non-state stakeholders, including violent groups and transnational corporations. It argues that as the more successful strategy to wage conflict, contemporary nonviolent movements track non-state stakeholders’ fluctuating loyalties and leverage methods of protest, boycott, civil disobedience, and noncooperation in order to secure small wins. The essay provides insight into two movements in Iraq and Myanmar and breaks down how each group engaged non-state stakeholders and used nonviolent tactics to garner support and enact meaningful democratic change.





Since the end of the Cold War, power continues to be devolved from the state and into the hands of non-state stakeholders including militias, extremist groups, and international corporations. Some of the particularly violent stakeholders, such as those in Iraq, developed into extended and highly unaccountable arms of a military. In other scenarios, wealthy individuals and global corporations have scaled to compete with the state in monetary terms by leveraging their investments to influence geopolitics in their favor. Nonviolent activists know better than most that this dispersion of power has greatly altered the political landscape, and that non-state stakeholders must be skillfully navigated to guarantee victory.

This essay examines how nonviolent movements pivot their strategies to achieve democratic change and considers the rise of non-state stakeholders to positions of power. While subscribing to the core methods of strategic nonviolent struggle, the essay compares how movements in Iraq and Myanmar are utilizing non-state stakeholders’ newfound power to achieve positive change.

Part One provides context on the method of strategic nonviolent struggle and why, even in the face of violent repression, it is more likely to result in sustainable change compared to a violent strategy. Part Two discusses the challenge that movements face in navigating non-state stakeholders due to the nature of these actors’ loyalties. This section also compares how activists in Iraq and Myanmar tracked non-state stakeholder’s loyalties over time to identify ripe moments to secure wins for the cause. Despite a difference in context, this essay concludes that the scenarios in Iraq and Myanmar illustrate how a nonviolent approach that carefully navigates non-state stakeholders is the key to achieving democratic change—even in the face of unimaginable violence.


The success of nonviolent resistance challenges conventional thinking, which assumes that political violence is the most effective way for a resistance campaign to challenge an adversary and achieve its goals. As a civilian-based method, strategic non-violence leverages social, psychological, economic, and political means to challenge an adversary without the threat or use of violence.[1] Hundreds of methods of nonviolent resistance—including economic boycotts, labor strikes, public protests, non-cooperation, and nonviolent intervention—have been recorded by scholars and are employed regularly to mass mobilize populaces as means to assert political pressure and delegitimize adversaries.[2]

History even favors nonviolence as the choice method of resistance over that of a violent strategy. According to The Nonviolent and Violent Conflicts Outcome (NAVCO) 1.3 Data Set (an initiative including comparative data on 622 global resistance campaigns between 1900 and 2019) movements that adopt a nonviolent strategy are successful 52 percent of the time.[3] The achievements of nonviolent movements starkly differ to violent resistance campaigns, which have so far only been successful 39 percent of the time.[4]

Still, some contemporary scholars and activists have argued that political violence is a legitimate tool that activists should employ, particularly in the face of repression.[5] Nevertheless, the strategic logic behind nonviolent resistance reaffirms the method’s superiority. Many who argue in favor of violent tactics have claimed that nonviolence is a “Western” technique and that those who advocate for its application fail to consider risks involved with the strategy.[6] Some also argue that using methods of unarmed violence, like launching Molotov cocktails or throwing rocks, is effective for achieving short-term change due to a lack of other mechanisms at a groups’ disposal, such as elections.[7] Other activists claim that they’ve found a balance in establishing fringe groups in their movement who successfully employ unarmed violence in tandem with nonviolent actions.[8]

While it may be possible that the adoption of unarmed violent tactics resulted in short-term change for some movements, there is little evidence to suggest that the use of these tactics is effective for enacting long-term democratization. This is because when a resistance movement adopts a violent strategy, they are challenging their adversary in an area where their adversary maintains the upper hand.[9]

Adversaries (whether they are a corporation, military, or extremist group) have wielded violence to uphold what Johan Galtung, a Norwegian sociologist, refers to as structural violence.[10] Unlike direct violence, which Galtung defines as the “physical harming [of] other humans with intention,” structural violence is the driving force behind social systems which prevent part of the population from meeting their basic needs, causing premature death as a result of exclusion, neglect, and poverty.[11] In modern societies, structural violence tends to manifest as institutionalized colonialism, racism, sexism, ethnocentrism, elitism, and nationalism. Galtung argues further that those stakeholders who benefit from structural violence rely on widespread direct violence, such as police violence or disinformation, to maintain their position of power.[12]

The theory of structural violence highlights a key reason for why adopting violence is unwise: a movement’s adversary has had many years of experience in using violence as a tool to stay in power. This means that in most scenarios, a movement’s adversaries will have an absolute advantage in a violent strategy from both a material and structural perspective.


Non-state stakeholders are entities that are not directly funded by the sitting government of the state from which they operate. In real terms, high net-wealth individuals, multinational corporations, non-governmental organizations, militias, and nonviolent movements are among some of the entities that fall under the category of “non-state stakeholders.” Some of the more powerful non-state stakeholders tend to operate with a large degree of impunity as they have superseded the authority of a sitting government.[13] While countries have combined their resources to develop a global system of justice through the establishment of entities like the United Nations or international courts, powerful non-state actors persistently subvert accountability for international crimes.[14] Groups operating with impunity can be highly problematic for nonviolent movements as they can lead to unchecked repression targeting activists or result in a non-state stakeholder becoming the lifeline of the movement’s adversary.[15]

In order to overcome the conundrum of non-state stakeholders, successful activists have broken down non-state stakeholders according to their loyalties and created campaigns that aim to shift some of those loyalties to the movement’s cause. Loyalty in this scenario may be thought of as both an emotion and a set of behaviors.[16] Similar to emotions like love or sorrow, individuals can be loyal to multiple things at once and their expression of loyalty manifests in myriad forms. An individual’s loyalty to something or someone may also shift radically if a superior alternative comes along.[17]

This approach for conceptualizing loyalty alignments is congruent with the logic of strategic nonviolent struggle. This approach humanizes the individuals within a non-state stakeholder by asking: “what are those individual people loyal to as it relates to being part of that non-state stakeholder and why?” Therefore, instead of approaching a non-state stakeholder as an institution, activists view them as a large group of individuals. Each of those individuals, a human, is loyal to a variety of things, such as their families, their religion and their job.[18] The goal for activists is to acknowledge these loyalties and present individuals that constitute the stakeholder with a beneficial alternative, such as gaining freedom of expression or earning more money.[19]


Navigating Non-state Stakeholders to Achieve Victory

To complement the theory, we will now examine two examples of nonviolent movements that successfully navigate non-state stakeholders. The first example in Iraq conveys the importance for movements to act on individual’s loyalties when the prospect of winning the support of an entire non-state stakeholder group is not possible. The latter example in Myanmar examines how a boycott and divestment campaign tracked several non-state stakeholders’ fluctuating loyalties to apply sustained pressure and eventually, win over their support. In both cases, activists were faced with a choice between adopting a nonviolent or violent strategy to achieve their goals; activists in both cases chose nonviolence in the face of violent adversaries and yielded victories for their causes.


Popular discontent over poor living standards, unemployment and insecurity had been simmering in Iraq’s Shia Muslim majority areas during summer 2019, including the capital city Baghdad and across the oil-rich southern governorates. It had been one of Iraq’s hottest summers and despite generous oil revenues, most low to middle income Iraqis lacked clean running water and a sustained source of electricity. The situation boiled over in September 2019 when security forces violently dispersed a peaceful student sit-in outside the Prime Minister’s office in Baghdad using a water cannon.[20] Coordinated demonstrations surged across the capital and in the south; protesters were met regularly with live ammunition by the country’s Hashd al-Shaabi formations, an umbrella of militias that were originally mobilized to combat ISIS.[21] Several of the Hashd’s more powerful militias are loyal to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Force, both ideologically and monetarily, and have affiliations with Iraqi political parties.[22]

The coordination among activists grew more sophisticated as more took to the streets, particularly following the former Prime Minister Adel Abdil Mahdi’s decision to transfer a commander Abdel-Wahad al-Saadi from the elite Iraqi Counter Terror Service to the Defense Ministry.[23] Seen as one of Iraq’s core war heroes in the fight against ISIS, al-Saadi was celebrated, particularly among Shia young men. While his promotion was executed by Prime Minister Madhi, al-Saadi’s followers perceived his demotion as an act of political coercion stemming from the Hashd’s powerful pro-Iran militias, and thereby an act of foreign influence from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.[24]

Protest participation surged once more, as activists began occupying public squares in Baghdad and the southern governorate capitals. In Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, protesters developed methods to communicate their demands, including a newspaper publication known as “Tuk-tuk,” named in honor of the local motorized taxi drivers known for bravely transporting wounded demonstrators to hospitals.[25] The movement also broadened its membership, inviting Iraqi women to join its leadership ranks. Participation surged once more with numbers reaching up to 100,000 in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square as hundreds of women took to the streets.[26]

To challenge the Iranian-aligned militias’ loyalties and persuade them to join the cause, protesters focused on a commonality among the support base’s loyalties: national pride. The demands, though arguably vague, included a stop to all foreign intervention in Iraq, whether it be Iranian or Western, fresh elections and an end to the country’s “status quo” of corruption, high unemployment, sectarianism, and violence.[27]

Fringe groups using unarmed violent tactics popped up, particularly in the South. They burned down the Iranian consulate general in Najaf as crowds chanted “death to Khamenei,” the Iranian Grand Ayatollah.[28] Iranian-aligned militias reacted aggressively, employing indiscriminate live ammunition, and launched Iranian-supplied military-grade tear gas, killing over 500 protesters.[29] Between December 2019 and August 2020 the militias proactively kidnapped and assassinated activists, namely female activists, to condemn their participation.

As a reaction to the militias becoming more entrenched in their loyalties, Iraqi protesters began to focus on chipping away at the militia’s source of manpower by persuading young disenfranchised, unemployed men to join the cause instead of the militias’ ranks.[30] When threatened by powerful clerics over gender integration in the streets, protesters held hands in the square and covered public spaces with drawings of martyrs and Iraqi women resisting.[31] This strategy enabled activists to forgo focusing on pulling the militias to their side altogether and instead appealed to the loyalties of individual fighters or prospect fighters.

As the protests raged, the Iraqi parliament pushed through electoral reform legislation in late 2019, changing the system from a proportional system to a single non-transferrable system.[32] Though imperfect, the change allowed for voters to select individual candidates over party lists. The legislation also reserved a quarter of the total 251 seats for women.[33]Still, the protests pressed on, with corruption and foreign influence remaining. On February 11, 2021, activists demonstrated the true influence of their actions after the powerful Iraqi Shia Cleric Muqtada al-Sadr dissolved his “Blue Caps” militia. This was in response to protester demands over viral videos displaying the militia members killing dozens of protesters in Najaf to reopen roads.[34] The appetite to appease the movement reflected the protesters’ adjustment to appeal to Iraqi-aligned militia members’ loyalties to their country. In May 2021, the protesters’ campaigns over the Iranian militia’s kidnapping and assassination intimidation campaign also yielded a small win after the head of the Iranian aligned al-Anbar militia Qasim Muslin was arrested for playing a role in the death of two kidnapped activists.[35]

The movement’s true success shone through the parliamentary elections in fall 2021. The Iran-aligned militias’ Fatah Alliance lost ground in Parliament, relinquishing 31 seats. Meanwhile, Iraqi women- including two women representing the ethno-national minorities in Iraq, surpassed the established quota and won 97 seats.[36] Iran-aligned militias deemed the results as illegitimate and threatened to escalate their violence. Instead, the Iraqi Supreme Court ratified election results in December 2021.[37]

While the results may appear to be small victories, these extraordinary developments represent a

demotion in the militias’ power, a condemnation of their use of violence and an endorsement for the Iraqi state’s inclusion of women and minority groups. This progress was achieved as a result of the activist movement acknowledging that the Iranian militias’ loyalties were unlikely to shift in their favor. Instead, they made a conscious decision to appeal to the loyalties of young Iraqis and persuade them to join the nonviolent cause over the militias.



On November 8, 2020, Myanmar’s National League for Democracy won a landslide victory in the national elections. The elections were a major step forward on the path to democratization.[38] Nevertheless, the Tatmadaw (Myanmar Armed Forces) declared the results as illegitimate on February 1, 2021, and launched a coup d’état against the elected government. Established activist groups, professional unions and civil servants quickly mobilized to form the “Civil Disobedience Movement” that aimed to garner broad support from across the country.[39] The goal was straightforward: to execute a national labor strike and bring the economy, and the Tatmadaw’s sources of financing, to a full stop.[40]

While the United States and its European counterparts began imposing economic sanctions on the Tatmadaw’s revenue streams, Myanmar’s liquified natural gas (LNG) industry remained untouched. Lobbying by companies with direct investments in the country, including the French oil and gas venture TotalEnergies (Total) and the US-owned Chevron Corporation (Chevron ensured smooth operations in the LNG sector).[41] The Civil Disobedience Movement recognized that by not sanctioning the LNG activities, the Tatmadaw would still maintain a strong source of revenue.[42]

The movement set about winning over non-state stakeholders’ support, convincing them to divest from the Myanmar LNG pipeline connecting the offshore Yadana Gas field to Thailand.[43] Activists mapped out Total and Chevron’s loyalties and deduced that profit and brand reputation were the critical assets that both companies were most loyal to. The Civil Disobedience Movement then worked with supporters abroad to develop the “Stop Buying Juna Business” boycott and divestment campaign, while also pulling both companies’ workers at the Yadana gas field into the nationwide labor strike on February 11, 2021.[44] LGN workers posted pictures from the offshore platforms calling on both companies to condemn Tatmadaw’s growing list of human rights violations against nonviolent protesters.[45] TotalEnergies promptly responded to the strike and calls to divest claiming that they would not stop producing gas on the Yadana Fields “in part to protect employees from those who might otherwise risk repercussions from the military junta.”[46]

Over the next 30 days, international pressure mounted as global news agencies, such as Reuters, published lists of foreign companies with direct ties to the Tatmadaw and acts of protest and civil disobedience which directly targeted these companies’ offices began to pop up.[47] In Washington D.C., American activists staged a demonstration outside of Chevron’s local office and took turns whacking a pinata adorned with a picture of the company’s primary lobbyist responsible for aggressively working to keep the US from sanctioning Myanmar’s energy industry.[48] This dilemma action targeted Chevron’s loyalty to its profit and identified the absurdity of its actions to protect that profit while directly funding the violent military junta. In May, an activist covered the façade of the national Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise’s headquarters with red paint, brandishing slogans demanding that Chevron and Total withdraw from the country, otherwise risking more Burmese blood being spilled.[49]

By the end of May 2021, sustained, albeit small scale protests, had popped up at numerous Chevron refineries in the US and at Total offices in Europe.[50] The campaign managed to impose enough upward political pressure on Chevron and Total that on May 27, 2021, the energy giants jointly suspended cash distributions derived from the Yadana gas venture to the Tatmadaw junta. The decision followed a joint vote by both companies’ shareholders.[51] The suspension marked an important step in the shift of the energy companies’ loyalties, as it signaled that they were unwilling to risk their reputation and potentially, their profit, if the boycott and divestment campaign grew stronger. With a combined 59.24 percent share in the offshore project, the act partially fulfilled The Civil Disobedience Movement’s goal to cut off financial support to the Tatmadaw.[52]

Amidst sustained nonviolent campaigns, including continued direct action targeting both companies, the energy giants halted all operations and withdrew from the Yadana gas venture on January 21, 2022, citing human rights abuses and a deteriorating rule of law as a direct result of Tatmadaw’s coup d’état.[53]


Non-state stakeholders, ranging from high net wealth individuals to violent extremist groups, will continue to emerge onto the political scene and challenge traditional sources of political power like standing governments, militaries, and international courts. The cases in Iraq and Myanmar demonstrate how those non-state stakeholders which manage to supersede a domestic government may act with high levels of impunity in using violence against civilians, or in maintaining business ventures that directly fund entities accused of committing war crimes. This shift in the political landscape presents a particularly complex challenge for nonviolent movements that aim to pull as many individuals as possible to their side because powerful non-state stakeholders exist outside of the system already attempting to democratize. For several movements, such as those in Iraq and Myanmar, tracking and appealing to individuals’ loyalties who collectively make up a non-state stakeholder has proven fruitful in realizing their goals.

Successfully tracking loyalties as a means to navigate the rise in non-state stakeholders will be critical for those movements seeking to enact meaningful change in constituencies especially where extremist groups have established viable alternatives to government systems. Despite their extremist ideologies, groups like Al-Shabaab in Somalia or the Islamic State-Khorasan in Afghanistan, are able to govern territories because they provide core services in the absence of the central government, such as security and clean water delivery. The populations they govern therefore, have accepted their ruling in order to survive. In other scenarios, such as Russia’s invasion in Ukraine, large-scale corporations’ boycott and divestment from those abusing human rights may prove to be a powerful tipping point in a movement’s ability to apply political pressure on its adversary. Activists’ ability to influence large-scale divestments may be achieved by appealing to the loyalties of the core decision makers within these corporate non-state stakeholders.

To work in parallel with activists’ strategy in appealing to loyalties, policy makers must meaningfully engage and endorse nonviolent movements as the legitimate voice of the people. Further, by applying economic sanctions on individuals within militias, extremist groups, or corporations who either monetarily support or directly repress nonviolent activism, the international community will aid in democratically diffusing power to the people.

[1] Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan, Why Civil Resistance Works, (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2014), 18.

[2] Gene Sharp, 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action, Albert Einstein Institution, 1973.

[3] Erica Chenoweth and Christopher Wiley Shay, List of Campaigns in NAVCO 1.3 – NAVCO Data Project, V1 (2020), distributed by Harvard Dataverse,

[4] Ibid.

[5] See: Brent Simpson, Robb Willer, and Matthew Feinberg, “Does Violent Protest Backfire? Testing a Theory of Public Reactions to Activist Violence,” Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World 4 (January): 1-14.; Daniel Q Gillion, The Loud Minority : Why Protests Matter in American Democracy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2020).; Isaac Chotiner, “How Violent Protests Change Politics,” The New Yorker, May 29, 2020,; Tonya Mosley and Allison Hagan, “Violence As A Form Of Protest | Here & Now,” Wbur, June 11, 2020,; John Morreall, “The Justifiability of Violent Civil Disobedience,” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 6 (1) (March 1976): 35-47.

[6] Mosley and Hagan, “Violence As A Form Of Protest.””

[7] Interview with Hong Kongese activists, July 9, 2021.

[8] Austin Ramzy, “In Hong Kong, Unity Between Peaceful and Radical Protesters. For Now,” The New York Times, September 27, 2019,

[9] Chenoweth and Stephan, Why Civil Resistance Works, 22–24.

[10] Johan Galtung, “Violence, Peace, and Peace Research,” Journal of Peace Research 6 (3) (1969): 175-179.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Galtung, “Violence, Peace, and Peace Research,” 183.

[13] Sabine C. Carey, Michael P. Colaresi, and Neil J. Mitchell, “Governments, Informal Links to Militias, and Accountability,” The Journal of Conflict Resolution 59 (5) (2015): 850-876; Stéfanie Khoury, “Corporate (Non-)Accountability and Human Rights,” Asian Journal of Social Science46 (4/5) (2018): 503-523.

[14] Ore Koren, “Means to an End: Pro-Government Militias as a Predictive Indicator of Strategic Mass Killing,” Conflict Management and Peace Science 34 (5) (2017): 461–84.; Khoury, “Corporate (Non-)Accountability,” 2018).

[15] For detailed examples in Iraq and Myanmar, see Marija Ristic, Ivan Angelovski, and Maja Zivanovic, “‘Epic’ Serbian Arms Deal Led to Pierced Skulls in Baghdad | Balkan Insight,” Balkan Insight, December 13, 2019,; Manny Maung, “Myanmar Atrocities Show Need for International Action,” Human Rights Watch,  December 15, 2018,

[16] For theories on how loyalty is considered an emotion versus a behavior, see: James Connor, The Sociology of Loyalty, 9–34. (New York: Springer, 2007); Robert C. Solomon and Lori D Stone, “‘On “Positive” and “Negative” Emotions,’” Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 32 (4) (2002): 417–35; Jack Katz, How Emotions Work (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1999).; Morton Grodzins, The Loyal and the Disloyal: Social Boundaries of Patriotism and Treason (Cleveland: Morton Books, 1956).

[17] Katz, How Emotions Work.; Connor, The Sociology of Loyalty.

[18] Connor, The Sociology of Loyalty, 222–24; Grodzins, The Loyal and the Disloyal, 82–86.

[19] Chenoweth and Stephan, Why Civil Resistance Works.

[20] “In Baghdad, All Bridges Lead to Revolution,” Al-Wasat, November 7, 2019,

[21] “The Popular Mobilization Forces Admit to Shooting Protesters on the Night of the ‘al-Khilani Massacre,’” Al-Quds, December 9, 2019,; “Protests Erupt in Iraq against the American Targeting of the ‘Hashd,’ Abdul-Mahdi Threatens to Review the Relationship with the International Coalition,” Al Jazeera, December 31, 2019,

[22] For an excellent overview of the Hashd al-Shaabi’s structure and operating model, see: The Hashd and Politics from Iraq’s Paramilitary Groups: The Challenge of Rebuilding a Functioning State, International Crisis Group, July 30, 2018.

[23] Mustafa Saadoun, “Iran’s Influence Seen in Transfer of Iraqi War Hero,” Al-Monitor, October 4, 2019,

[24] Ibid.; Mizar Kamal, “A Women’s Revolution in the Iraqi Streets: We Will Win!” Daraj, October 30, 2019,

[25] “Iraqi Protesters’ Newspaper Aspires to Be a Means of Change,” Reuters, November 20, 2019,

[26] Mass Al-Qaisi, “Women Become the Icon of Iraqi Protests,” Al-Ithtijaj, March 8, 2020,; Kamal, “A Women’s Revolution”; Dr. Ilham Makki, “The October Demonstrations Are a Turning Point in the Iraqi Feminist Movement,” Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, 2020,

[27] Ibid.

[28] “The Protest Scene after Protesters Burn down the Iranian Consulate General in Najaf,” Enab Baladi, November 28, 2019,

[29] Saadoun, “Iran’s Influence Seen.”

[30] Makki, “The October Demonstrations.”; Saadoun, “Iran’s Influence Seen.”

[31] Ibid.

[32] Iraqi Council of Representatives, Iraqi Parliament Elections Law (No. 9 of 2020), 2020,

[33] Iraq’s Electoral Preparations and Processes- Report No.4, United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, December 10, 2020; “In a Remarkable Precedent, Women Make a Surprise Win in the Iraqi Elections,” Al-Jazeera, October 20, 2021,

[34] Muqtada Al-Sadr, Twitter post, February 11, 2020,

[35] “Iraq Arrests Commander in Iran-Backed PMU over Activist’s Murder,” Al-Arabiya, May 26, 2021,

[36] “The Iraqi Federal Court’s Approval of the Election Results Removes Opacity in Iraqi Politics,” Iraqi News Agency, December 27, 2021,–.html.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Maung, “Myanmar Atrocities.”

[39] Victoria Milko, “How Are the Myanmar Protests Being Organized?” AP News, February 9, 2021,

[40] Ibid.

[41] Kenneth P. Vogel and Lara Jakes, “Chevron Lobbies to Head Off New Sanctions on Myanmar,” The New York Times, September 16, 2021,; “403 Myanmar Civil Society Organizations to Patrick Pouyanne and Michael Wirth,” Progressive Voice Myanmar, April 20, 2021,

[42] Ibid.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Amanda Battersby, “Oil Workers in Solidarity against Myanmar Coup | Upstream Online,” Upstream, March 11, 2021,

[45] Battersby, “Oil Workers in Solidarity.”; Reuters Staff, “Total Says Abandoning Myanmar Gas Field Would Hurt Workers, Cities,” Reuters, April 3, 2021,

[46] Reuters Staff, “Total Says Abandoning Myanmar Gas Field Would Hurt Workers, Cities,” Reuters, April 3, 2021,

[47] “Rights Groups Call on Total to Suspend Payments in Myanmar Operations,” Reuters, March 16, 2021,; Thomas Conway to Michael K. Wirth, March 21, 2021,

[48] SomOfUs, IMG_7380, photograph, Flickr, April 16, 2021,

[49] “Rights Groups Call.”

[50] “Protesters Demand Chevron Suspend Payments to Myanmar Junta Ahead of Shareholder Meeting,” MyanmarNow, May 25, 2021,

[51] Agence France-Presse, “French Energy Company Suspends Payments to Myanmar Army,” Voice of America News, May 26, 2021,

[52] “Chevron, Total Energies Stopping Operations in Myanmar over Human Rights Abuses,” NPR, January 21, 2022,

[53] Ibid.



How to Sharpen a Nonviolent Movement

Article Source: Journal of Democracy

By Sophia McClennen, Srdja Popovic, and Joseph Wright

In 1982, during the Polish Solidarity movement, the people of Świdnik, a small town in eastern Poland, decided to protest government-media propaganda by taking their television sets for a walk. Activists had wanted to register their discontent at the communist state’s control of all news media, but decided that encouraging individuals to attempt a private boycott would be pointless: After all, who would know if you were sitting at home in your living room not watching the news? But what if a way could be found to make such a boycott publicly visible? What if dissatisfaction with government propaganda and the state’s stranglehold on information could be put on unmistakable display for everyone to see?

Eventually, the activists decided to take their television sets onto the street at the time of the main evening newscast, “walking” them in wheelbarrows as though they were babies in carriages. Before long, anyone walking the streets of the town at this hour could see friends and neighbors ambling and laughing, pushing their TVs, using the thirty minutes previously spent listening to the official newscast to greet one another, gossip, and share in the thrill of standing up to the regime together.

The practice of “walking” TV sets was not only creative but contagious. It was a great gag, and the practice soon spread to other Polish towns. Flabbergasted, the communist government weighed its options. It could not arrest anyone; there was no law forbidding Polish citizens from pushing television sets down streets. All the regime could do was move the 10 p.m. curfew up to 7 p.m., thereby forcing everyone indoors [End Page 110] and signaling its powerlessness to contain criticism with a move that outraged the Polish public even more.

The wheelbarrow protests put the government in a tough spot: Ignoring the protesters would simply embolden them, reveal the government’s weakness, and increase resistance. Repressing protesters for doing something as innocuous as pushing TVs in wheelbarrows would make officials look heavy-handed and overly repressive. The clumsy effort to tamp down the protests by decreeing an earlier start to the curfew cost the regime credibility, expanded the base of Polish citizens critical of the government, and made the authorities look absurd. They could no longer claim that they were acting in the best interest of the people. Once that narrative had been disrupted, their grip on power became tenuous and eventually the regime fell. This specific type of nonviolent tactic is called a dilemma action. It is designed to create a dilemma for the target and force opponents into a “lose-lose” situation: Whatever the opponents do, they will suffer reputational harm and end up looking bad. A well-chosen dilemma action taps into widely held beliefs and uses unpredictability and humor to destabilize the official narrative and attract widespread public support.

But, beyond making for a good story, is this tactic effective? Does it have outcomes that we can measure? Our research suggests that dilemma actions can make a nonviolent campaign 11 to 14 percent more likely to succeed. Nonviolent campaigns are already nearly twice as likely to succeed as violent campaigns (working half the time versus only 29 percent of the time), and our findings suggest that dilemma actions can give nonviolent campaigns a further edge, helping them to succeed almost two-thirds of the time (64 percent).

Over the past three decades, research has shown that nonviolent social protest has been the most reliable path to democracy.1 Recent democratic backsliding notwithstanding, sustained nonviolent mobilization remains a proven path to democratic survival, especially among new democracies.2

Nonviolent mobilization campaigns can and do fail, of course. Since 1905, their rate of full success has been 47 percent (150 of 320 cases). In a more recent subset of all cases since 1974—namely, all the cases that have occurred since the “third wave” of democratization began with the Carnation Revolution in Portugal—the rate of failure (defined as anything less than full success) has been 53 percent (137 out of 258 cases). Civil resistance reached a “new level of popularity” after 2010, but its effectiveness began to decline.3

We know that nonviolent mass movements are significantly more effective than violent ones, but why do nonviolent movements sometimes fail? Could their tactics play a role? Nonviolence itself is a broad tactic, but simply saying that a movement is nonviolent says little about how it actually pursues its goals (other than by abjuring violence, of course). [End Page 111] There is a vast difference, for example, between nonviolent movements that emphasize protests and ones that incorporate more disruptive direct actions such as strikes.

Research on the efficacy of specific nonviolent tactics is scant. Most of it focuses on comparing a few cases to one another, or studies tactical changes within a movement. Apart from suggestions that campaigns will be more effective if they use a “variety” of methods, there has been little noted regarding specific types of tactics and their role in campaign success.

This said, there has been growing interest in assessing the effects of creative tactics. Building on anecdotal accounts such as Steve Crawshaw’s Street Spirit: The Power of Protests and Mischief, or activist training guides such Andrew Boyd and Dave Oswald Mitchell’s Beautiful Trouble: A Toolkit for Revolution, or the Guide to Effective Nonviolent Struggle published by the Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS), Steven Duncombe and Silas Harrebye offer data on the relative effectiveness of creative versus conventional forms of activism.4 They find that across nearly every quantitative measure—observations of interest, numbers of petition signatures gathered, speed and scale of flyer distribution, reactions to the activists—the creative approach beat the conventional one when it came to reaching desired objectives.

Our study is meant to add to these contributions. It introduces, conceptualizes, and measures the efficacy of dilemma actions. We then use global data on dilemma actions during nonviolent campaigns to assess how this tactic influences campaign success. Our findings suggest that dilemma actions reliably boost campaign success. What makes this tactic so effective?

Dilemma Power
During their colonial occupation of India, British authorities held monopoly control over the vital everyday staple of salt, taxing it and controlling its production and distribution with an eye toward its value as an export. The independence movement could have angrily protested this state of affairs, but instead chose to do something far more creative. Led by Mohandas K. Gandhi, independence activists marched to the coast and began evaporating seawater to make their own salt. Tax protests and noncompliance soon spread across India and affected many things besides salt.

The British authorities found themselves in a bind: They could watch their control over salt (and more) go away, or they could launch a crackdown. They chose the latter, arresting thousands and along the way harming the colonial regime’s legitimacy, sparking an international outcry, and giving the independence movement additional momentum. [End Page 112] Gandhi’s unique ideas regarding civil disobedience became famous, but he was also a master at devising creative dilemmas that would confound his opponents and help his cause.

We have documented cases of dilemma actions across history and on every continent, but systematic study of them is a recent endeavor. The first activist to write about the success of dilemma actions was George Lakey, who in 1987 described what he called “dilemma demonstrations.” Canadian activist Philippe Duhamel read Lakey and devised a “dilemma demonstration” in 2001 designed to protest the Canadian government’s participation in the Free Trade Association of the Americas. Armed with a “giant key,” protesters embarked on a “search-and-seizure operation” at the Department of International Trade and Foreign Affairs in Ottawa, where they demanded that they be given access to the draft trade treaty. Protesters were arrested, which then drew public scrutiny. Why was the Canadian government refusing to release a draft? Why the secrecy? A week later, the protesters had achieved their goals and the drafts were made public. Duhamel later published a detailed account of the tactic.5

For Lakey and Duhamel, at the tactic’s core is the dilemma, which is created by a direct action tactic that forces the opponent into a lose-lose choice. Like all direct actions, dilemma actions work outside of conventional advocacy. They are designed to make the target respond. The typical choice is between efforts to repress the activists, which look heavy-handed, or inaction, which looks weak. In both scenarios, the target loses public credibility and the campaign builds momentum.

In one classic example, the Serbian movement Otpor! (Resistance!) plastered an oil barrel with President Slobodan Milošević’s picture, then placed the barrel in a busy shopping area. Passersby could drop a coin into the barrel and hit the image of Milošević in the face with a baseball bat. Calling the action “dime for change,” the activists encouraged their audience to recognize that they lived under a regime where the government cared more about shielding the autocrat’s image than about letting people peacefully express themselves. Police arrived and had to decide what, if anything, to do. They chose to “arrest” the barrel, which provided excellent photo opportunities and left the police, and by association Milošević, looking absurd. Otpor! could have gone the route of traditional protest, but a fun, provocative dilemma action drew far greater attention to the regime’s repression and built support for the nonviolent movement against it.

Even more important, our definition of dilemma actions, which builds on the CANVAS training experience, requires that activists tap into a widely held belief. Thus, for example, the “dime for change” dilemma action foregrounded the belief that people should be able to peacefully express frustration with their government. When the police shut things down, the repressive response made Otpor! more legitimate and the Milošević regime less so. By combining a peaceful action with [End Page 113] one that taps into a widely held belief, activists have a better chance of building broad public sympathy for their goals and incorporating the type of “large and diverse participation” that Erica Chenoweth has noted as critical for campaign success.6

The third element of a good dilemma action is playful irony. Humor is a powerful tool for activists targeting authoritarian regimes. Laughtivism has been defined as the “strategic use of humor and mocking by social nonviolent movements in order to undermine the authority of an opponent, build credibility, break fear and apathy and reach target audiences.”7 Showing that humor in political activism goes beyond just “letting off steam,” Majken Jul Sørensen explains how funny political stunts can disrupt repressive regimes’ discourse and reframe the narrative.8 Her research shows that using humor also helps activists themselves, who report feeling less fear when engaging in acts that have a humorous element.

Not all humorous stunts are ironic, of course. Activists dressing up in funny costumes may be fun but is not necessarily ironic. Dilemma actions, by contrast, need irony. They hinge above all on exposing the situational irony of opponents’ claims to be acting in the public’s best interest when in fact they are not doing so. As Bill Moyer writes, power-holders devise myths to justify their self-serving policies and programs.9 Oppressive governments do not need citizens to actually believe these myths, but they do need citizens to act publicly “as if” they believe them.10 The inherent irony is that the powerholders’ public narrative hides the truth of their actual practices.

The activists’ goals, then, are to use creative tactics to reveal the truth behind the myths that have been presented to the public as true, and—just as important—to expose citizens to public acts that subvert those myths. If, for example, a regime will not allow the people to publicly express themselves in protest, then a dilemma action will ironically call attention to that by displaying blank signs, staging silent protests, or having toys instead of people do the protesting. Dilemma actions are therefore a form of public disobedience that undermines regime narratives, but in a manner that honors a widely held social norm. The upshot is a public demonstration of how the regime’s narrative defies social norms.

A government may say that it has started a war to keep its citizens safe, while in fact the war puts the citizens at far greater risk. Protesters could respond by hitting the streets in a traditional protest, or they could try creatively ironic dilemma actions: writing antiwar messages on currency, [End Page 114] dressing in skeleton costumes to protest in cemeteries, or holding up blank pieces of paper in silent complaint.11 Arresting a bunch of creative activists for peaceful actions will hurt the regime’s reputation. This outcome is of great interest since a major factor shaping campaign success or failure is how the public perceives activists. When they are seen as disruptive or annoying or extremist, they tend to fail to attract new members.12 By contrast, research shows that if the public feels moral outrage at how the state treats activists, public support for the movement will likely rise.13 Actions that have an element of ironic play can be very effective at portraying activists sympathetically and their targets as hostile.

While the dilemma actions in our study vary in terms of how playful or funny their actions may be, they all share an effort to use creative irony to expose the intrinsic ironies of autocratic power.

The Dilemma-Action Study
This project began with the goal of pairing decades of activist experience with academic research. One member of our research team, Srdja Popovic, knew that dilemma actions could make a difference. He learned this firsthand as a leader of Otpor! helping to bring down the Milošević regime, and later from decades of CANVAS work training other activists across the globe. In order to put experience to a test, we conducted a holistic case study of 44 dilemma actions, coding nine different success metrics. This formed the basis of our 2020 book Pranksters vs. Autocrats.14 The results were encouraging, and led to this study, which documents the extent to which nonviolent campaigns use dilemma actions and tests whether they affect success rates.

To test the efficacy of dilemma actions as part of a nonviolent campaign, we examined dilemma-action tactics that took place during the 320 nonviolent campaigns occurring between 1905 and 2019, and which are included in the larger Nonviolent and Violent Campaigns and Outcomes (NAVCO) 1.3 dataset covering the period from 1905 through 2019.15 The nonviolent campaigns in NAVCO 1.3 provide a sample that we can code for the presence of dilemma actions, allowing us to compare success rates of campaigns with and without dilemma actions.

The first step in coding was to learn the range of tactics used by each campaign and to search for markers of dilemma actions. Examples of these markers include boycotts, hunger strikes, media art, labor strikes, sit-ins, and symbols. If we found a dilemma action, we then coded its descriptive and evaluative features. If our team found a single example of dilemma-action tactics being used within a campaign, the search of the campaign stopped at that point—there was no need to find all dilemma actions since one was enough for comparative purposes. If no evidence of dilemma actions surfaced at first look, the team revisited primary and secondary sources twice more to confirm the absence. [End Page 115]

To give an example of how the coding went: In January 2009, during Iceland’s so-called Cutlery Revolution, nearly two-thousand people gathered outside the Althing (parliament) building to bang pans, pots, and other kitchenware. This use of everyday kitchen items was a helpful and ironic way to highlight the effect that the government’s handling of a massive banking collapse and financial crisis was having on ordinary citizens’ ability to feed their families. Banging pots and pans also made a lot of noise and drew media attention.

The demonstrators called on Prime Minister Geir Haarde and his cabinet to resign, and demanded reforms to make government more transparent. This disruptive action forced the government to either treat the protesters like criminals—and likely face charges of having overreacted—or let the noisy demonstrations continue. The demonstrators achieved their short-term goals: Haarde, the head of the central bank, and the country’s top financial-oversight officer all stepped down. Early elections were held that April. In order to code this case, two members of the research team independently consulted five distinct secondary sources, including newspaper articles, an encyclopedia entry, a peer-reviewed journal article, and an extant database of nonviolent mobilization.

Iceland’s Cutlery Revolution is just one example. Overall, our data indicate that dilemma actions occurred in only about a third of nonviolent campaigns, but at a fairly constant rate over time, suggesting that the presence of dilemma actions is not new. Dilemma actions also occur outside nonviolent campaigns, in part because many attempts at mass mobilization—both with and without dilemma actions—never attract the thousand or more participants that are needed to make it into the NAVCO dataset. In order to get around this limitation in the data, we have assembled our own database of more than four-hundred dilemma actions that includes instances where such actions were one-off events untied to any larger movement, let alone one with a thousand members. We have included, for example, the May 2013 “Kisses in the Subway” protest that happened after public-transit officials in Ankara, Turkey, looked at a station’s security-camera feed and noticed a couple kissing. Defying official admonitions to cease displaying affection on public transport, more than a hundred people flooded a station and spent several minutes kissing. Some held signs reading “free kisses.” Officials then had to decide whether to criminalize kissing or let these protesters undermine their authority. The dataset of dilemma actions found in the NAVCO data comprises about a quarter of the cases that we have studied thus far.

The Evidence
The success rate across all nonviolent campaigns in the NAVCO 1.3 dataset is roughly 54 percent. The left plot in Figure 1 shows that this average varies considerably by whether a campaign uses a dilemma action. [End Page 116] Nonviolent campaigns lacking a dilemma action have an overall success rate of just under 50 percent, while those with dilemma actions succeed on average 64 percent of the time.


Figure 1.

Dilemma Actions and Nonviolent-Campaign Success

Note: Partial success is treated as 50 percent, failure as 0, and full success as 100 percent.

Next, we tested the efficacy of dilemma actions.16 Our estimate suggests that dilemma actions are associated with an increase of ten percentage points in the probability of campaign success. This is lower than the prior fourteen-point estimate (64 versus 50 percent success rate), but our estimate comes from an approach that is often less sensitive to outlier observations. Both approaches suggest that, on average, dilemma actions make nonviolent campaigns significantly more likely to succeed.

The difference in success rates has narrowed over the last three decades, however, just as the overall success rate for nonviolent campaigns has dropped. Both these trends—the smaller difference made by dilemma actions, and nonviolent campaigns succeeding more rarely overall—seem to have started as the Cold War was ending. For much of the twentieth century, including the years from 1920 to 1950, we see a success rate for dilemma-action–inclusive campaigns that substantially outstrips the success rate of campaigns lacking a dilemma action. In the three decades or so since the Cold War ended, however, the difference shrinks. Specifically, it goes from 25 points between 1905 and 1988 to 9 points since that latter year: From 1989 through 2019, nonviolent campaigns with at least one dilemma action succeeded in 61 percent of cases, while campaigns without succeeded 52 percent of the time.

What can explain the shrinking success gap? Could it be that dilemma [End Page 117] actions have a bigger impact when used against full-fledged autocracies of the sort that were more common before the Cold War’s end? Such regimes are by definition farthest from rule by consent of the governed, and as such start out with wider legitimacy gaps for dilemma actions to exploit. To examine this possibility, in Figure 2 we plot the estimated marginal effect of dilemma actions by the level of democracy of the targeted government.

Figure 2. Dilemma Actions Boost Nonviolent-Campaign Success in Autocracies

Source: Democracy data (x-axis) from the Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) project.

The plotted line indicates that the marginal effect of dilemma actions is highest in more autocratic countries. When campaigns target the most autocratic governments (those with democracy scores between zero and 0.2), the dilemma-action effect is well above average. In the most democratic governments in the set (those with democracy scores above 0.6), by contrast, the dilemma-action effect is about half what it is in autocracies. In short, when nonviolent campaigns target more-autocratic governments, dilemma actions are nearly twice as likely to boost campaign success compared to the situation where dilemma actions are used in more-democratic settings.

How Dilemma Actions Help Nonviolent Campaigns
Our team gathered a range of descriptive data on each dilemma action case to code fifteen distinct metrics, some of which were descriptive and some evaluative. Our evaluative findings indicate four specific elements of dilemma actions that shape nonviolent-campaign success: facilitating [End Page 118] group formation, delegitimizing opponents, reducing fear, and generating sympathetic media coverage.

Group formation
Popovic has argued that a successful movement will tap into what he calls the “cool factor.” His experience is borne out by research regarding what dilemma actions can do to shape public perceptions of the movement as well as the morale of those directly involved. Such actions, for example, present activists as nonthreatening.17 Research on humor and activism further suggests that the use of humor lowers the resistance of the audience to the activist’s message and can induce audience members to think about an issue that they might have been avoiding.18 Even more important, the use of play in activism can help to break down social barriers, creating new alliances among disparate members of society.19

Dilemma actions not only affect public perceptions but the activists themselves. Dilemma actions done with humor and irony give participants as a group positive feelings. To a greater degree than other nonviolent strategies, dilemma actions can help groups to form and stay active. The short-term adverse reactions that dilemma actions tend to rouse from opponents are easily interpreted as tactical successes, which can make activists feel empowered.

Almost all the time (that is, in 92 percent of cases) dilemma actions during nonviolent campaigns are followed by increases in the numbers of campaign participants. Movement mobilization continues after the dilemma action 82 percent of the time, and in 93 percent of cases the event boosts public sympathy for the nonviolent campaign.

Dilemma actions must not only pose a true dilemma (failed attempts are often traceable to a lapse on this score), but must also touch the chord of a widely held belief. Getting the opponent to respond to the dilemma action in a norm-transgressing way is key. The response is “lose-lose” because the dilemma action dictates that the only alternative to violating a widely shared norm is nonaction, which is a loss because it looks weak.

The dilemma then creates a situation whereby the target is likely to lose legitimacy in the eyes of the public. How onlookers assess the probable value of activism against the target may change as well.20 For example, if the opponent’s first choice is to avoid responding publicly to a dilemma, citizens may sense weakness and resistance grows as a result. If the number of people involved in the dilemma action swells, activists’ legitimacy will rise while their target’s falls. In practice, this means that one of the best ways to mount a dilemma action is to aim at an opponent’s absurd, excessive, irrational, or repressive rules. If protesting is outlawed, then activists can hold up blank signs. Arresting people with blank signs will cost the opponent legitimacy as the public loses respect [End Page 119] for the opponent’s rules. A well-executed dilemma action can reframe the narrative of the regime from legitimate to illegitimate, from just to unjust, from representative to autocratic, and so on.

Regime nonresponse is rare. We find that 90 percent of the time, a dilemma action meets with an aggressive or violent response, or at least one that arguably looks like an overreaction. In July 2011, for example, people marched en masse in Malawi to protest their government. They flew the country’s original postindependence flag—the government had recently changed the design and banned display of the old one. They wore red clothing and called themselves the “Red Army for Democracy and Peace.” Riot police launched violent crackdowns in several cities, but this did not quell the protests, which went on for several more days and sparked again in August and September. The authorities’ harsh reaction, just as in our earlier example of the Polish government’s overreaction to walking TVs in wheelbarrows, aided the activists and undercut the legitimacy of the regime.

A third causal mechanism linking dilemma actions to campaign success involves the psychology of fear. Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef writes that fear has always been the “best weapon” of repressive regimes, but “when you laugh, you aren’t afraid anymore.”21 He is the Cairo heart surgeon who became famous for his satire in early 2011, not long after the Arab Spring had toppled the Hosni Mubarak dictatorship, through videos shot in his laundry room and posted to YouTube. Youssef accumulated millions of views on the internet and then made waves with a television show styled similarly to Jon Stewart’s Daily Show. Youssef’s program, Al Bernameg, eventually reached thirty-million Egyptians (almost a third of the populace) and offered groundbreaking comedy featuring unprecedented open mockery of the Egyptian government. Authoritarian regimes use fear to discourage expression, stifle resistance, and foster social division. Fear may create feelings of isolation and apathy by inducing pessimistic perceptions of risks and by boosting risk aversion—two mechanisms that reduce participation in protest.22 Yet as Youssef learned firsthand, laughter can work against fear. When the government of President Mohamed Morsi arrested him in March 2013 for allegedly insulting Islam and the Egyptian state, for example, Youssef showed up at his hearing in a massively oversized version of the hat that Morsi had worn earlier that month while receiving an honorary degree in Pakistan. Rather than let himself be intimidated by the arrest, Youssef used the opportunity to laugh at Morsi’s inability to handle criticism.

Youssef left Egypt in 2014 after further repression from the military regime that had ousted Morsi in a July 2013 coup, but the effects of Al Bernameg continued as other comics such as Shady Abu Zeid launched their own political-satire shows. Zeid also took his satire to the streets [End Page 120] with a dilemma action in 2016, offering inflated condoms as balloons to police in Cairo on the fifth anniversary of Mubarak’s fall. Videos of the protest show the activists and members of the public laughing in the face of police authorities.23 Since laughter is a positive emotion that enhances group formation and collective action, it can be a powerful activist tool.

Dilemma actions may reduce the fear of both activists and their observers. The use of laughter to counter fear may well attract more members to the movement and ease the problem of activist burnout. Perhaps even more importantly, dilemma actions that induce the opponent to react absurdly or illogically may reduce fear among nonparticipants such that they may be likelier to join future protests against the opponent or to replicate the dilemma actions in a different time or place with a different audience.

Autocrats, as Popovic and Youssef underline, do not like jokes. Dictators tend to have thin skins, and to overreact if ridiculed. Their overblown reactions to humor lay bare their outsized egos and fragile identities. In Belarus in 2011, activists were able to agitate the regime of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka by simply clapping in public. When his police arrested some of them, the public saw a heavily armed authoritarian government with every means of coercion at its disposal revealing its fear of peaceful protest.24 We find qualitative evidence suggesting that most dilemma actions (87 percent) help to reduce fear or apathy among campaign participants. By reducing fear and boosting public sympathy, dilemma actions nearly always (88 percent of cases) help to reframe the opponent as less scary or more repressive.

Finally, a well-designed dilemma action will receive media coverage. The key question is whether it is favorable. Research has shown that, in general, protests get bad press and protesters are painted as deviants.25 Coverage will vary based on the outlets doing the reporting and the level of press freedom in the country. Regarding actions in highly repressive countries, international and domestic coverage will predictably diverge.

In the ideal case, media coverage of the dilemma action will introduce the group doing it (assuming it is new or otherwise unfamiliar to the public) and document the norm-violating behavior of the opponent.26 A media report might convey summary information about the group such as its size, composition, and ties to allied or sympathetic groups. Widening public awareness may in turn lead more citizens to change how they assess the legitimacy of the group and its goals.

Media coverage is key to agenda setting, framing, and priming.27 Agenda setting has to do with issue saliency (whether or not the public is thinking about an issue), framing has to do with how the public thinks about an issue, and priming has to do with what leaps first to mind when the topic is raised. For a dilemma action, media coverage is crucial: [End Page 121] Without sufficient coverage of the right sort, there will be no reframing the narrative or priming the public mind to influence what people think of the activism and the reasons behind it. The playful nature of dilemma actions, their use of irony, and their appeal to widely held beliefs are meant to attract sympathetic coverage that can reshape how the public sees the opponent. Our finding in this regard is encouraging: The goals of dilemma actions drew favorable coverage 84 percent of the time.

What Does Success Look Like?
Chenoweth has noted that even when campaigns of nonviolent civil resistance fail, they still lead to long-term reforms more often than violent campaigns do. In fact, nonviolent campaigns were about ten times more likely to precede a democratic transition by five years or less than were violent campaigns.28 Our research suggests that nonviolent campaigns deploying dilemma actions may be even more effective at these long-term outcomes.

In 2012, protesters in Sudan organized “elbow-licking Friday” in an ironic reference to then-president Omar al-Bashir’s habit of calling those who wanted him to leave office “elbow-lickers”—people with a foolish appetite for attempting the impossible. As masses of “elbow-licking” protesters hit the streets, they were met with rubber bullets, tear gas, beatings, and arrests. This aggressive repression went hand-in-hand with internet and media clampdowns plus the president’s bizarre efforts to claim that there had never been any real revolt in the first place. His government’s legitimacy drained away. He hung onto power, but it seems fair to say that the “elbow-lickers” contributed to the growth of a prodemocracy movement in Sudan. Bashir was finally toppled by a 2019 military coup, and despite another putsch in 2021 there are plans to hold elections and write a new constitution in 2023. There were no immediate concessions in this case, but again it seems fair to say that the cause of better and freer government did gain ground in the public mind, and that exposing a repressive president’s absurd ego aided the cause.

Thus, even within the set of campaigns that the NAVCO set designates as failures, those that used dilemma actions still had high success across critical metrics such as reframing the narrative, increasing activists’ appeal, and reducing fear among activists themselves. Each of these positive outcomes has the potential to help unravel repressive power in the future. Once an autocrat’s image has been tarnished by an effective dilemma, it can be hard to recover.

These effects can be seen in various instances that we have tracked of dilemma actions targeting Vladimir Putin’s regime in Russia, revealing the potential positive effects of dilemma actions even if they have not so far led to regime change. Over the last decade, a range of Russian [End Page 122] activists have deployed dilemma actions to challenge the legitimacy of Russian autocracy. In one hilarious 2012 example, activists in Barnaul, Russia, bypassed a ban on public dissent by setting up a display of toys holding tiny protest signs. Seeming to take inspiration from the arrest of the Milošević barrel in Serbia, the authorities ruled the toy array an “unsanctioned event,” then denied an application for a new display by declaring that toys could not be citizens of Russia.29 The situation drew international media coverage and made the Kremlin look ridiculous. In 2021, the police made an arrest in a snowman protest.30

Since the invasion of Ukraine, creative activists in Russia have used dilemma actions to protest the brutal crackdown on any mention of “war.” They have staged silent actions with copies of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and have drawn up self-censored posters that bear asterisks where the phrase “no to war” should appear. They have even added antiwar signs to merchandise price tags.31

In late 2022, similarly, protesters in the People’s Republic of China held up blank signs and violated bans on public gatherings in response to the government’s repressive “zero-covid” laws, efforts that led to modest concessions as the government decided to loosen restrictions. In the Islamic Republic of Iran, protesters have also used dilemma actions in antigovernment protests. Women have danced, removed their head coverings, and cut their hair publicly in efforts to mock the authority of the morality police. Their actions have received widespread public support. Each of these acts allows protesters to playfully expose the ironies of repressive power and to reframe aggressive policies as exercises in absurdity.

Will these creative tactics force the regimes in Russia, China, and Iran to end their aggressive policies? Probably not. But can such approaches harm these regimes’ authority and popularity?32 Our research shows that there is a decent chance for both to suffer damage. [End Page 123]

What would success look like for the protests in China and Iran?

Article Source: Grid News

By Joshua Keating

What would success look like for the protests in China and Iran?
An activist who helped bring down a dictator on how China’s government learns from dissent, why Vladimir Putin might be more vulnerable than we think and why the climate movement could be a force for democracy.

It’s been a year of dramatic demonstrations in authoritarian regimes around the world, and several of the most-watched protest movements are now at critical junctures.

In China, where protests in cities across the country erupted late last month, sparked by draconian anti-covid measures, the government has now reversed course and is easing up on many restrictions. Some China experts view this as a victory for the protesters and proof that people power can force change, even in the most authoritarian of countries — though the pivot from “zero-covid” is far from the more fundamental political transformation that some protesters were calling for.

In Iran, where protests against discriminatory laws and dress codes targeting women have been roiling the streets since September, the government has hinted at concessions including disbanding the much-despised morality police and amending the law requiring women to cover their hair in public. But it’s not clear whether the regime is really serious about these measures or whether the changes will satisfy a movement that, as one expert told Grid, has “targeted the heart of the Islamic Republic” rather than any specific grievance.

Meanwhile, in Russia, the public protests that erupted in response to the invasion of Ukraine in February and the government’s mass mobilization order in the fall appear to have died down. But questions remain about the strength of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s rule, given clear signs that opposition to the war is growing among the Russian public.

These and other ongoing examples of public dissent have raised a question: When and how do protests against authoritarian governments actually achieve results?

To assess these movements, and the state of the global struggle against authoritarianism more broadly, Grid contacted global democracy activist and researcher Srdja Popovic. In his 20s, Popovic was one of the founders of Otpor!, the student movement that played a key role in organizing the mass protests that overthrew Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic in 2000. He went on to form the Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS) an organization that has provided support and training for pro-democracy activists in dozens of countries around the world. Speaking by Zoom from Oslo, Norway, Popovic discussed the strategies that make nonviolent movements effective, why Putin may be more vulnerable that he appears and why the climate movement may be the future of pro-democracy activism.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Grid: What’s more important to the success of a protest movement in an authoritarian country, the movement itself or the political context in which it operates? Continue reading “What would success look like for the protests in China and Iran?”

How to Build a Nonviolent Movement in Under 45 Minutes!

Democracy works because citizens are willing to engage with the government and create grassroots change. In our experience from working in more than 50 countries, building a nonviolent movement in your country is a crucial part of ensuring a successful transition to a democracy or to defend pillars of democracy in the situations where it may be under threat.
Building a movement to defend democracy may sound like “tough work” but here are CANVAS basics in how to do it – and you can learn those basics in less than an hour – meanwhile also having fun by watching amusing animating cartoons.

Subtitles in: Khmer, Arabic, French, Hebrew, Spanish and English

Step 1: Create Your Vision of Tomorrow

Every journey starts with the same step – by building a roadmap to decide where it is that you want to go. The first step in launching a successful movement for change is answering a single question: “How would society be different if we win?” Remember that your Vision should work not only for you or your friends but also cater to a larger spectrum of constituencies you want to mobilize and recruit for your movement!

Step 2: Build Unity

After you’ve cultivated a Vision of Tomorrow, it is important to use it to unite the different groups that you seek to mobilize. Building unity within the movement is vital to ensuring that those who oppose your movement cannot utilize a “divide and conquer” strategy. Learn how to foster a sense of community and cultivate group identity to ensure that your nonviolent movement can become a force to be reckoned with in this video!

Step 3: Understanding Power in Society and Pillars of Support

In order to create political and social change in a society, you must understand how to gain power and authority. Change is achieved by swaying institutions and organizations that we call “pillars of support.” These are organizations that are currently supporting the “status quo,” but can be swayed through societal pressure into becoming vehicles for change. Remember: no matter how “hopeless” a situation may seem, people can always learn how to wield social pressure to meet their goals – and change a society.

Step 4: Fight Fear and Apathy by Breaking its Core Engine

Two factors fuel the maintenance of the status quo: apathy of the population and the weaponization of fear in authoritarian environments. In both cases, there are large reasons why people obey – and learning how to break these obedience patterns can turn a large number of your fellow citizens into brave and committed activists.

Step 5: Plan your strategy and tactics

There are only two types of movements in history: those that are “spontaneous” – and those that are successful. Success means that you need plan, plan, and plan on various strategic and tactical points of your activities. So get serious and start planning how to address the right pillars in the right order to create effective nonviolent action.

Step 6: Communicate Effectively and Defeat Your Opponent’s Propaganda

Successful movements know how to communicate their messages to both people who they aim to turn into supporters and people who are supporting their opponent. Successful movements also know that once they start becoming successful their opponents will use propaganda against them. Learning how to communicate clearly and discredit your opponent’s propaganda is a “make-or-break” principle of nonviolent movement.

Step 7: Make Your Movement Cool, Witty and Funny

Humor and political satire are at the core of successful social change movements. Not only can you make creativity and humor part of your movement’s identity, but you can also use it to force your opponent into looking stupid or weak. Remember: you want your movement to be cool. Everybody wants to hang around cool people and cool activities.

Step 8: Understand and Use Social Media

In this day and age, new media has become vital for any activists seeking to grow their movement. Learn about how you can use new media for the benefit of your movement, as well as the potential negatives and dangers of its use.

Step 9: Prepare for Oppression – and Make It Backfire

Not all the societies in the world are made democratic. If you are fighting for democracy from within an autocracy, get prepared for your opponents to act oppressively. Successful movements know not only how to defeat fear and oppression, but also how to turn their opponents’ use of oppression against them. Learning to make oppression backfire makes you a jiu-jitsu master of social change.

Step 10: Always Finish What You Start

From the Arab Spring to human rights and anti-corruption campaigns, history is full of examples where movements successful initiated change – but haven’t been able to turn it into a long-lasting new normal. Your vision becomes reality only if your change becomes part of the institutions and culture. So it’s not only about winning – it’s also about how to facilitate transition after that victory.

Toolbox for Successful Movement

Non-violent movements have certain aspects and elements that are crucial to their success. From making sure that you can fund the activities of the movement and negotiate effectively, to ensuring you protect your network and remain inclusive, we cover some of the most relevant tools needed for founders and participants to accomplish the goals set out. Effective strategies need to be implemented from the beginning in order to make the movement successful – and adapted to various stages of a movements cycle. The basic building blocks of organizing- and importantly preserving – a successful movement are explained in the videos below. Let’s get started!

Fundraising 101

The number one question we receive from activists is how to fundraise – especially when no one knows who you are, and you are just starting out! This video explains five steps to get your fundraising underway and is particularly helpful for a movement in its early stages. It covers starting from involving your network, to making sure all those donors can visualize where their support is going, to celebrating your success.
Afterall, everyone loves a good reason for a party!

Negotiation – The Inevitable Ending to Non-Violent Movements

Whether it is for a non-violent movement or pretty much any aspect of your life – having good negotiation skills is a great asset and comes in handy when you are making considerable progress in your movement and are getting close to implementing change. Our workshop blends the analysis of historically successful and unsuccessful negotation outcomes with an academic perspective from experts in the field and case studies we have worked on in the past to make sure you are ready to handle all the tough compromises that come your way.

Grassroots Movements and Climate Change

Most people are familiar with the effort governments and big corporation put into sustainability – from promoting clean energy to the much-loathed paper straws that are now a familiar sight at every café franchise. However, the key to boosting global environmental movements may not be big corporations or governments, but rather developing movement building skills to help an already mobilizing band of young people refusing to pay for the actions of previous generations- and save the earth while they’re at it.

Activism in Pandemic

Many authoritarian governments used the emergency powers granted through a pandemic as a way to track opponents and limit democratic freedoms. However, while this posed some challenges, many movements adapted their advocacy to the public health measures in place and were able to still reach people from all corners of the globe. Many of us remember viral protests that were unique and memorable while brining attention to important issues that we may not have heard of otherwise! This video highlights how pandemic-era movements successfully modified their tactics and what we can learn from them.

Three Elements for Non-violent Movements

The first element is the vision you have for the movement, which needs to be something that people can relate to and want to see. This is followed by having a plan to implement the vision into reality across the different stages the movement goes through. As the saying goes – if you fail to plan, you plan to fail! Last, but not least – we have non-violent discipline. It is vital that this is a clear and distinguishing factor of the movement.

The Journey

Starting the journey to building a successful movement is no small feat! Here, we outline three steps to successfully completing this journey. Step one is having a clear end goal and mission statement to guide your movement in the right direction from the beginning. This is followed by mapping your journey – you want to clearly understand how the target community will look after you achieve your goals. Finally, gather your team! This is not a one-person journey and recruitment is an important part of it.

Visual Communication

Despite doing everything right and having great strategies, some movements are still unsuccessful because they fail to communicate their vision effectively. To avoid this, you need to successfully inspire your audience to get involved and make them have the desired emotional reaction to your message. A strong brand identity is needed, one which aligns with the movement’s purpose and fits well with the message and goals that you want to achieve. This workshop explores how to do this effectively using different aspects of the movement and highlights successful examples that have done this admirably.

Cyber Security for Activists as individuals

Many of us have our entire lives on our phones and computers. While this has made many things easier, it also comes with its own set of problems such as cyber security breaches. Having all of our data in one place is dangerous, and you don’t want information about you or your movement falling into the wrong hands! Digital security training and knowing what to look out for in a cyber breach are important aspects of building and protecting a movement.

Cyber Security for Movements and Organizations

Just like individuals, organizations are also susceptible to dangerous cyber-attacks that can be extremely damaging. Organizations protect critical data and infrastructure by having cyber security frameworks in place to minimize the risk of cyber-attacks and data theft. This can be done by outsourcing cyber security experts that meet the specific needs of that organization, educating employees on how they can minimize the risk of cyber-attacks or going big and having a full-on department that monitors all of the digital activity.

Women in Activism

Women are an essential part of activism – and their incredible impact on movements has been felt around the globe. Despite this, there have been many incidents where their roles have been not been given the recognition they deserve – with men put in the spotlight instead. Movements need to be inclusive and bring people from different backgrounds and perspectives –the participation of women is a step in the right direction to achieve this and will play an important role in getting more people involved.

Transition process – Now What?

Having your movement succeed is wonderful – but it doesn’t stop there, and the transition period is important to making sure the movement remains successful in the long term. Once change has come, it is important for non-violent movements to hold the people in power accountable. Furthermore, advocacy that makes sure the whole society is benefiting from the change is important – and activists must continue to ensure that inclusivity is prioritized during the transition. Finally, activists must not be afraid to get involved in the political institutions and continue to advocate from within – fighting to make them strong and independent tools of democracy.

A look at the top contenders for the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize

Article source: The Washington Post

By Paul Schemm

The awarding Friday of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize comes at a particularly fraught moment, amid Europe’s biggest land war since World War II, major increases in food and energy prices and growing alarm over talk of using nuclear weapons.

While the nominations closed in February — before the invasion of Ukraine — it is widely believed the war could have an effect on the final selection, as the Norwegian Nobel Committee often makes political statements with its choices.

In 2021, the committee put the focus on freedom of the press with awards to embattled journalists Dmitry Muratov of Russia and Maria Ressa of the Philippines, while in 2020, it feted the World Food Program. In light of current events, 2022 might be about politics again.

Here are some of the contenders as chosen by the Peace Research Institute of Oslo, whose shortlists in the past have included the 2019 winner, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, and the 2018 winners, humanitarians Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad.

Russian and Belarusian opposition

Two likely possibilities could be the most prominent opposition figures in Russia and its close ally Belarus: Alexei Navalny and Svetlana Tikhanovskaya.

Navalny, who has appeared on a string of shortlists over the years, is currently spending much of his time in solitary confinement at a Russian high-security penal colony 155 miles east of Moscow following convictions on embezzlement and other charges that rights groups have described as bogus.

His anti-corruption organization has highlighted the misdeeds of Vladimir Putin’s regime for years, resulting in his poisoning by Russian security forces with a banned nerve agent in August 2020. After a convalescence in Germany, however, he returned to Russia in January 2021 and was immediately imprisoned.

From his cell, he has managed to repeatedly condemn the war in Ukraine and Putin’s “criminal mobilization because of which tens of thousands of people are going to die in trenches.”

After her husband was imprisoned just two days following his announcement in 2020 that he would run for president, Tikhanovskaya became the leader of the opposition in Belarus against long-serving strongman and close Putin ally Alexander Lukashenko.

Lukashenko’s reelection victory in August 2020 was widely described as rigged, but the ensuing protests were crushed. Tikhanovskaya and her two children fled the country out of fear for their safety. But in the years since she became the face of a movement challenging Lukashenko’s rule, Tikhanovskaya has continued to present herself as Belarus’s legitimate leader.

Chinese activists

The doomed 2019 pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong gained worldwide attention, as did China’s brutal treatment of the Uyghur minority in the far northwest of the country, which was addressed in a long-delayed United Nations report released in August.

The committee could send a message by awarding the prize to activists such as Nathan Law and Agnes Chow of Hong Kong or Ilham Tohti, an imprisoned Uyghur scholar.

Law, who was given political asylum in Britain last year, is one of the most prominent of the Hong Kong activists in exile. He co-founded the pro-democracy Demosisto party in 2016 and was briefly elected as a lawmaker in the city before being disqualified for not taking the oath of office correctly.

He fled the country before the passage of a draconian national security law in 2020 that outlawed most protests and snagged many of his fellow activists, including Chow.

She gained prominence as a 15-year-old spokesperson of the 2012 student protests and went on to participate in most of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movements, including the Demosisto party. She was eventually arrested and imprisoned for 10 months for her role in the 2019 protests and was released in June 2021. She remains in Hong Kong.

Tohti, a professor of economics, has been imprisoned for life since 2014 on charges of advocating separatism. In 2006, he established a website to draw attention to the discrimination faced by Uyghurs, as well as provide a platform for exchange between Uyghurs and Han Chinese, China’s largest ethnic group. He was arrested in January 2014 and convicted in September after a two-day trial.

Interfaith champion

The selection of Harsh Mander, an activist for interfaith harmony in India, would cast a harsh spotlight on the growing religious polarization in the country that many say has been fueled by the right-wing Hindu nationalist government.

Beginning in 2017, Mander, 67, led activists, writers, lawyers and artists in his Karwan-e-Mohabbat, or Caravan of Love, across India to visit families affected by communal bloodshed.

Mander has been highly critical of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his policies, which Mander says deepen the religious cleavages in the country and are discriminatory toward Muslims.

The ‘World Court’

In a time of increased rivalry among the global powers and competing narratives about world events, there is a degree of yearning for international institutions that can present impartial opinions, which makes the 77-year-old International Court of Justice, or “World Court,” an attractive candidate.

“Despite having no binding force, the Court’s advisory opinions nevertheless carry great legal weight and moral authority,” the court has noted about itself, and it has been an instrument of preventive diplomacy to keep the peace.

Established in 1945 after World War II, the ICJ is the main United Nations judicial body with a mandate to settle legal disputes between countries and provide advisory opinions on matters of law referred to it by other U.N. bodies.

On March 16, the court ordered Russia to completely stop its military operations in Ukraine. The decision is seen as mostly symbolic, as the court lacks a viable way to enforce its ruling.

Research and activism

If the committee decides to go the route of activism, two organizations that work on human rights and peaceful responses to conflict that might catch its eye are the San Francisco-based Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG) and the Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS), an organization based in Belgrade.

HRDAG aims to bring the rigor of scientific analysis to human rights, with investigations into conflicts, while CANVAS educates activists about nonviolent resistance to autocratic regimes and the promotion of human rights and democracy.

Though HRDAG and CANVAS are not directly linked, they were formed in a similar period of activism around the turn of the millennium. Both organizations have worked on similar causes.

They carried out significant work during the Arab Spring, with CANVAS initially advising anti-government protesters in Syria before a violent government response to demonstrations helped precipitate civil war.

HRDAG gained renown at the start of the war, when it was one of the few organizations that tried to put a number on the war’s enormous toll in Syrian lives.


Robyn Dixon and Mary Ilyushina in Riga, Latvia; Theodora Yu in Hong Kong; Lily Kuo in Taipei, Taiwan; Gerry Shih and Niha Masih in New Delhi; and Maite Fernández Simon and Adam Taylor in Washington contributed to this report.

Here Are the Favorites To Win the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize

Article source: TIME

By Sanya Mansoor

The winner of the Nobel Peace Prize will be announced at 11am local time on Friday in Oslo, Norway.

The Peace Prize is one of six awards established by Swedish chemist (and inventor of dynamite) Alfred Nobel in 1895. The prize is considered the most expansive in its recognition, given that it awards people “who have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind.” The other five recognize contributions in literature, physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, and economic sciences.

The winner is selected by the five-person Norwegian Nobel Committee, which is appointed by Norway’s parliament.

According to a Reuters survey, Belarusian opposition politician Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, British nature broadcaster David Attenborough, the World Health Organization, environmental activist Greta Thunberg, Pope Francis, Tuvalu’s foreign minister Simon Kofe, and Myanmar’s National Unity government are among those who have been nominated by Norwegian lawmakers. The lawmakers have a track record of picking the eventual winner.

Below, a list of some of the favorites to win, based on nominations that were made public via Norwegian lawmakers, bookmakers’ odds, and a personal shortlist by the director of the Peace Research Institute Oslo.

Volodymyr Zelensky

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who was on the 2022 TIME 100 list, is the bookmakers’ favorite to win the peace prize. After Russian President Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, Zelensky stood firm in Kyiv. He recorded a simple message, saying: “We are here… We are in Kyiv. We are protecting Ukraine.”

Zelensky has since repeatedly spoken out against Russia’s actions on the global stage and urged international allies to punish the Kremlin for its aggression. He has had his share of close escapes; as the war first broke out, Russian troops were just minutes from finding him and his family. And more than seven months after the conflict broke out—and after Russia annexed parts of Ukraine—Zelensky continues to advocate for the country.

The People of Ukraine and the Kyiv Independent rank high up on the list of bookmakers’ odds.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya

Belarusian opposition politician Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya has been living in exile ever since running against Alexander Lukashenko in the country’s 2020 presidential election. Lukashenko claimed victory despite concerns that the election was unfair and a widespread belief that the results put Tsikhanouskaya ahead of him.

Tsikhanouskaya didn’t always intend to enter politics. She was a full-time mother who had been considering restarting her career as an English teacher until May 2020 when Belarusian authorities arrested her husband—bringing his campaign to President to an end. That’s when she stepped in. Her candidacy galvanized many Belarusians and women in particular. After Lukashenko claimed victory two years ago, he ordered security forces to crack down violently on protests. Demonstrations against Lukashenko’s regime have continued since and Tsikhanouskaya has continued to play a key role in challenging the President and authorities in calls for fair elections and an end to violence.

Tsikhanouskaya was on the 2021 TIME100 Next list, which honors emerging leaders shaping the future, and is a favorite among bookmakers.

Alexey Navalny

Russia’s jailed opposition leader and anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny has been a key figure in fighting for democratic reform. In 2011, Navalny created the Anti-Corruption Foundation to investigate high ranking Russian officials for corruption. For years, he has worked to hold Putin’s regime—along with its allied oligarchs—accountable.

Navalny’s work has come at a high cost to his personal safety and freedom. He survived an assassination attempt in 2020, when he was poisoned by a nerve agent. Despite the danger to his life, he returned to Russia after living briefly in Germany during his recovery.

Navalny has some critics on the liberal side, too. Amnesty International stripped Navalny of his “prisoner of conscience” status after receiving many complaints about xenophobic comments he made that appeared to compare immigrants to cockroaches.

Navalny was recognized on the 2021 TIME100 list.

The U.N. Refugee Agency

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has been at the forefront of responding to crises in Ukraine and Afghanistan, providing cash assistance and relief items to those in need.

The war in Ukraine has led to more than 7.2 million refugees from Ukraine across Europe since Feb. 24 and more than 6.9 million Ukrainians have been internally displaced, according to the U.N. It amounts to Europe’s largest refugee crisis since the Second World War. In recent years, UNHCR has also led humanitarian responses to the Syrian war and the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean. The agency previously received the peace prize in 1954 and 1981.

The World Health Organization

For almost three years, the World Health Organization has been at the forefront of the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In that time, it has garnered praise for providing money, vaccines, and equipment to help contain the disease around the world. The WHO-backed COVAX program, which focuses on poorer countries, has so far delivered more than 1.7 billion vaccines to 146 countries.

But the United Nations agency has also been criticized for a series of missteps. Among them: a week’s delay in declaring the outbreak in China an international emergency, contradictory statements about asymptomatic spread, and a lack of urgency in advising people to wear masks to reduce transmission in the early phases of the outbreak.

The WHO was also considered a frontrunner to win the peace prize in both 2020 and 2021.

Simon Kofe

Tuvalu’s foreign minister Simon Kofe has made it a key part of his mission to address the climate crisis. Rising seas are a significant threat for sinking Pacific islands like Tuvalu, which is the fourth smallest country in the world and made up of nine small islands.

Kofe delivered his COP26 speech while knee-deep in the ocean to show just how much global warming and the sea level rise was impacting the island nation. Kofe pulled out of this year’s U.N. Ocean Conference to protest China’s decision to block Taiwanese delegates.

David Attenborough

David Attenborough, 95, is most beloved for his iconic voice and award-winning nature series, including Life on Earth and The Blue Planet. His works have intimately showcased wildlife and nature for many decades. More recently, Attenborough has spoken before the U.N. and World Economic Forum to advocate for addressing the climate crisis.

Greta Thunberg

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunburg, TIME’s 2019 Person of the Year, has kept the pressure on global powers to do more to combat the climate crisis. Thunberg has long been vocal about a “lack of action” on climate change.

In 2021, she dismissed the COP26 climate summit as a “failure”—saying that it did not do enough to drastically cut CO2 emissions. More recently, she took aim at Swedish politicians—saying that they ignored the climate crisis ahead of September’s national elections.

Thunberg first rose to fame in 2018 after starting a movement for students across the world to protest in favor of actions to combat the climate crisis. The 19-year-old has been considered a favorite to win the Peace Prize every year since 2019.

Harsh Mander and Karwan-e-Mohabbat

Indian activist Harsh Mander has long been vocal about the country’s crackdown on religious minorities—what he has described as a move away from its secular constitution. The Indian government charged Mander with inciting violence after he gave a speech at a peaceful anti-government protest in 2019. “Today, when the Muslims of this country are being asked to prove their love and loyalty for this country, it’s important to note that this question is being asked by those who never participated in India’s freedom struggle and made no sacrifices,” Mander had said.

Officials raided Mander’s home in 2021 after he went to Germany for a six-month fellowship program—prompting backlash from hundreds of activists and academics.

Mander created the national initiative Karwan e Mohabbat (“Caravan of Love”) in 2017—a collaborative movement that supports families who lost loved ones to hate violence and lynching.

Pratik Sinha and Mohammed Zubair

Journalists Pratik Sinha and Mohammed Zubair, co-founders of Indian fact checking website AltNews, have relentlessly been battling misinformation in India, where the Hindu nationalist BJP party has been accused of frequently stoking discrimination against Muslims. Sinha and Zubair have methodologically debunked rumors and fake news circulating on social media and called out hate speech.

Indian authorities arrested Zubair in June for a meme he tweeted four years ago. Journalists around the world condemned the arrest and argued it was retribution for his fact-checking work. “It is apparent that AltNews’ alert vigilance was resented by those who use disinformation as a tool to polarize the society and rake nationalist sentiments,” said a June 28 statement from the Editors Guild of India. The Committee to Protect Journalists also called for Zubair’s release—pointing to his arrest as “another low for press freedom in India, where the government has created a hostile and unsafe environment for members of the press reporting on sectarian issues.”

Ilham Tohti

Uyghur activist Ilham Tohti was an economist and academic at Minzu University of Chinain Beijing before China charged Tohti with promoting separatism in 2014 and sentenced him to life in prison. He frequently used his position to shed light on the Chinese governments’ oppresion of the Muslim Uyghur community. Human rights groups have reported that Tohti has faced torture, including the denial of food and having his feet shackled, during his imprisonment. Tohti’s daughter has repeatedly expressed concern for his life—saying she doesn’t know whether he is still alive.

Earlier this year, a set of essays and articles written by Tohti before his imprisonment—We Uyghurs Have No Say—was released. The writings expand on his work unpacking China’s treatment of Uyghurs and how the consequences of the country’s promotion of Han ethno-nationalism.

Myanmar National Unity Government

The Myanmar National Unity Government emerged as a shadow government after the country’s military detained Aung San Suu Kyi in a coup last February. The military charged her with violating COVID-19 rules and corruption. More than 1,000 people have been killed since her arrest. Thousands more have been arrested for protesting military rule.

The Myanmar National Unity Government is made up of elected officials who oppose military rule; many remain in exile. Myanmar’s military has ruled with a heavy hand—perpetuating a genocide against Rohingya Muslims and cracking down on nationwide protests calling for democratic reform.

Other contenders

The director of the Peace Research Institute Oslo’s personal shortlist includes Tsikhanouskaya and Navalny, Mander, and Tohti but also features: the International Court of Justice; Hong Kong activists Agnes Chow and Nathan Law; and the Human Rights Data Analysis Group Center (HRDAG) and the Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS).

Bookmakers also list the Committee to Protect Journalists.

According to the Reuters survey, the Arctic Council, aid group CARE, Chelsea Manning, Iranian human rights activist Masih Alinejad, the International Criminal Court, NATO, and WikiLeaks are also nominees that have been revealed by Norwegian lawmakers.

Military Coup in Sudan: What we know

Sudan’s military coup on Monday followed weeks of pro and anti military protesting. Soldiers arrested members of the Sudanese Cabinet, civilian members of the foreign council, government officials, and President Abdalla Hamdok’s media advisor. It’s been reported that the military has arrested staff of the state media. Members of the transitional sovereign council and ministers of the transitional government have also been detained.

Pro-civilian government protestors then took to the streets of the capital in large numbers, an estimated tens of thousands, demanding the return of civilian rule. Protests were met with violent dispersion tactics, including gunfire and beatings. The Sudanese Professionals Association has reported that internet and phone service has been out throughout the country. The group, Netblocks, which reports such disruptions, claimed that the nature of the incident is “consistent with an internet shutdown […] likely to limit the free flow of information online.” Reports also stated that the airport of Khartoum was closed, and international flights have been suspended.

Hamdok has allegedly been detained and taken to an undisclosed location. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the military officer who once headed a power-sharing council, addressed the press on Monday to declare a state of emergency and the dissolution of the transitional sovereign council, the Hamdok government, and the anti-corruption task force.

He also announced that a technocratic government would be installed, and elections would be held in July 2023. Burhan claimed that disagreements between political factions caused the military to take over.

The Umma and the Sudanese Congress, two popular political parties, have condemned the coup and the military’s response to the following protests. The Sudanese Professionals Association, who were active in the overthrow of the Bashir government, have called on supporters of democracy to mobilize in the streets, use civil disobedience tactics, and perform a general strike.


How did the coup unfold?

Hamdok’s office director, Adam Hereika, reported that this coup was attempted after an agreement had been reached between Hamdok and Burhan with a U.S. envoy present.

Hereika also points the finger at the military government for raising tension in eastern Sudan before the coup attempt.

The joint civilian and military-led government that took power following the ousting of former leader Omar al-Bashir in 2019 made promises to share power and pave the way for democratic rule in the future, but the clashing interests of the two parties have made cooperation very rocky. There has been another coup attempt occurring just last month, in September 2021.

Government officials claimed that the September coup attempt was orchestrated by Bashir supporters, leading to the arrest of 21 officers and an undisclosed number of soldiers. President Hamdok stated that measures would be taken to target former regime supporters who posed a threat to transition. Since the coup attempt, military leaders demanded the Forces of Freedom and Change coalition, which led anti-Bashir protests and were a substantial part of the transitional government, to be reformed. The military also demanded the replacement of cabinet members.

One major point of contention between the civilian and military sectors of government is whether or not to hand over the Sudanese who are suspected of war crimes during the 2003 Darfur conflict to the International Criminal Court, which the sovereign council has not been able to reach an agreement on. Another disruptive point is the civilian government’s investigation into the murder of pro-democracy supporters in 2019. While the military is against such measures, citizens grew unhappy with the delays in enforcing justice and sharing investigations.

Inflation and devaluation of the currency have caused severe issues for the economy. Citizens are faced with basic goods shortages and high inflation – of which international aid has been helping. Pro-military protestors have adopted slogans such as “down with the hunger government’’, stating that issues of food security and basic good access are the main reasons for supporting a coup by the military government.

These problems are exacerbated by the blockade on the Port of Sudan, which occurred in October of this year, where eastern Sudanese demanded that government take responsibility for prior injustice in the region following Bashir’s loss of power. Protesters demanded the deposing and replacement of President Hamdok, and equivalent revenue sharing by the government for the eastern Sudan region. Reports of such actions included speculations that the Port Blockage was staged or supported by military members of the Transitional Council of Sovereignty, who are still loyal to Bashir. Other speculations stated that the port blockage was staged in support of militant Islamist regimes in favor of a counter-revolution.

After last month’s coup attempt, many rebel groups and political parties allied with the military and staged a sit-in at the Presidential palace calling for the dissolution of the civilian government. In response, Cabinet ministers of the civilian government took part in large protests in Khartoum against military rule. In such protests, supporters of the transitional government counter protested pro-military demonstrations occurring at the same time.


Why did it happen now?

Tensions between the civilian government and the military transitional branch were running high for years. The frustration of the three-year delayed transition to civilian rule and the military’s continued attacks on the civilian branch have been threatening to collapse the power-sharing agreement.

Last month the attempted coup by a group of military officials exacerbated the conflict between the two governing branches. During late September, government officials stated that a group of officers attempted to occupy a state-operated media building. The act was labeled by officials as a failed coup attempt. The Sudanese army claimed that 21 officers, along with an unspecified group of soldiers, were arrested in connection with the coup attempt. A week following the coup attempt, Sudanese civilians chanted pro-democracy slogans and accused the military of delaying transferring power to civilians. They also accused them of postponing the expulsion of remnants of al-Bashir’s regime from state institutions. This includes finally prosecuting security forces who were responsible for the death of dozens of protesters during protests in June 2019.  The civilian branch voiced its support for protesters gathered in the Republican Palace while security forces, encouraged by the military branch, fired tear gas at demonstrators.

In early October, Sudanese security forces enacted a travel ban targeting eleven civilian politicians. This was an effort by the military branch to assert its dominance as this move was seen as repercussions for the civilian government’s “involvement” with the coup attempt. The civilian branch continued to dispute the accusation by the military that they supported a coup attempt. The Forces for Freedom and Change, a civilian umbrella coalition, mobilized protesters to show their support for the pro-civilian government side. This was not the first major protest started by FFC; they were responsible for organizing many demonstrations that led to the removal of President Omar al-Bashir. The central concept of “continuing the revolution,” a reference to the protests that brought down the late President, has been the central unifying cause for activists’ groups. However, during the protests on October 21st, it was evident there were fractures among these groups.

Protesters from the splinter FFC faction, the National Charter Alliance, have been holding a sit-in outside Khartoum’s presidential palace for the past few days. Many members of this group stated that they blame the civilian government for not representing them and ignoring rising poverty and economic deterioration around Sudan. However, members of the FFC claim that the sit-in was not connected to their post-revolutionary movement; instead, they labeled the sit-in as a pro-military protest led by security forces and their allies. With mass discontent on the streets and infighting between both branches invested in the power-sharing agreement, the situation in Sudan was ready to boil over.


Who is in charge?

On October 25th, midday, the military head of Sudan’s Sovereign Council General Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan declared a state of emergency. The military seized control of the government and state-run media outlets. Army officials were deployed across the capital city of Khartoum to establish control. The Khartoum airport has been shut down and international flights have been suspended. Additionally, the military has severely limited access to the internet and social media platforms.  In his live televised address to the nation, following the coup, General Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan announced that the Sovereign Council and cabinet had been dissolved effective immediately. He referred to the ongoing disputes between politicians of the Council and incitement to violence as justification for the dissolution. All the members of the Sovereign Council–the temporary body responsible for overseeing Sudan’s democratic transition– and state governors will be relieved from their positions. Armed forces have placed many civilian leaders under arrest including Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok and the governor of Khartoum Ayman Khalid. News outlets have reported that high-level officials responsible for the outreach for the Sovereign council have also been detained. Sources close to the Prime Minister report there was pressure within the Sovereign Council to support the coup, however, Prime Minister Hambok refused, and he urged people to continue protesting peacefully.


How has the world reacted?

The American special envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman said that “the US is deeply alarmed at reports of a military take-over of the transitional government,” he added how “this would contravene the Constitutional Declaration and the democratic aspirations of the Sudanese people,” in his statement on Twitter.

Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the African Union Commission, called for the “immediate resumption of consultations between civilians and military,” as well as the release “of all arrested political leaders and the necessary strict respect of human rights.”

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit expressed deep concern over the developments in Sudan. The pan-Arab bloc has also urged all sides to adhere to an August 2019 power-sharing deal outlining the transition following the ouster of Omar al-Bashir.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas condemned the coup in a statement. He said the attempted overthrow must come to an immediate end while calling on everyone in Sudan responsible for security and order to continue Sudan’s transition to democracy and to respect the will of the people.

Josep Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat, wrote on Twitter “The EU calls on all stakeholders and regional partners to put back on track the transitional process”. He will be attending a meeting of foreign ministers from the EU and the African Union on Tuesday in Kigali, Rwanda.

The United Nations Mission to Sudan has issued a strong statement to protect Sudan’s fragile democratic transition. The mission has a mandate to assist Sudan in its political transition and protection of human rights, hence can play an important role in garnering international support and local management of the situation. In a statement the mission called “the reported detentions of the prime minister, government officials and politicians unacceptable” and has called the security forces of Sudan “to immediately release those who have been unlawfully detained or placed under house arrest” while urging all parties to “exercise utmost restraint.”



The worsening economic situation, factional infighting, and a deep division between the civilian and military have contributed to the current state of the country. After the ousting of al-Bashir, the Sudanese have yet another challenge to endure and overcome. Sudan has a long history of fighting for democracy, dating back to 1964 when the Sudanese brought down the dictator Ibrahim Abboud. Since then, the country has experienced two major revolutions and a number of rebellions. But, history did show us that Sudanese people are resilient and will continue to fight against authoritarianism.


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