Sharp’s seminal book, From Dictatorship to Democracy, was written for the Burmese democratic movement in 1993, after the imprisonment of Aung San Suu Kyi. It has been translated into more than 30 languages.
Ruaridh Arrow, the author of the article, says that he is widely regarded as the world’s foremost expert on non-violent revolution.
Sharp is a political scientist, professor emeritus, Nobel Peace Prize nominee and founder of the Albert Einstein Institution based on the ground floor of his home, a small non-profit organization which studies and promotes the use of non-violent action in conflicts around the world.
Ruaridh Arrow, who has been producing a film about his work with Philip Bloom, describes Sharp’s central message: “the power of dictatorships comes from the willing obedience of the people they govern – and if the people can develop techniques of withholding their consent, a regime will crumble.”
As regimes in Serbia and Ukraine fell, their democratic movements acknowledged Sharp’s contribution, yet he remained largely unknown to the public. After the 2009 Green uprising in Iran, many of the protesters were accused at their trials of using Sharp’s methods. These are listed in his books, collated from a study of resistance to tyranny throughout history and ranging from the use of colours and symbols to mock funerals and boycotts.
Admitting the ‘long, sordid history of covert U.S. support for foreign political parties, military cliques, and individual leaders, as well as related activities that have resulted in the overthrow of elected governments’ and US’ provision of financial and logistical support for groups working against ‘unfriendly’ governments, Zunes wonders why these ‘very real manifestations’ are not confronted by the writers focussing on this aged scholar.
He welcomes an open letter in support of Gene Sharp and the Albert Einstein Institution signed by activists from groups like the Fellowship of Reconciliation and radical scholars. A convincing testimonial in the writer’s eyes are the signatures of three: Noam Chomsky, Michael Randle and Andrew Rigby.
Back to Tahrir square: Ruaridh Arrow reports that one of the organisers she met refused to talk about Sharp on camera, but confirmed that Sharp’s work had been widely distributed in Arabic. “One of the main points which we used was Sharp’s idea of identifying a regime’s pillars of support,” he said. “If we could build a relationship with the army, Mubarak’s biggest pillar of support, to get them on our side, then we knew he would quickly be finished.”
One of the protesters had been given photocopies of a handout containing the list of 198 methods but was unaware of their origins.
When she pointed out that these non-violent weapons were the writings of an American academic he protested: “This is an Egyptian revolution . . . we are not being told what to do by the Americans.”
And of course that is exactly what Sharp would want.
Ruaridh Arrow’s film, Gene Sharp: How to Start a Revolution, will be released in spring 2011
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