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I want a Peaceful Movement — Gene Sharp: Author of the NONVIOLENT Revolution rulebook

Posted on: March 5, 2011

In an old townhouse in East Boston an elderly stooped man is tending rare orchids in his shabby office. His Labrador Sally lies on the floor between stacks of academic papers watching him as he shuffles past.

This is Dr Gene Sharp the man now credited with the strategy behind the toppling of the Egyptian government.

Gene Sharp is the world’s foremost expert on non-violent revolution. His work has been translated into more than 30 languages, his books slipped across borders and hidden from secret policemen all over the world.

Key Steps on the Path to Revolution
  • Develop a strategy for winning freedom and a vision of the society you want
  • Overcome fear by small acts of resistance
  • Use colours and symbols to demonstrate unity of resistance
  • Learn from historical examples of the successes of non-violent movements
  • Use non-violent “weapons”
  • Identify the dictatorship’s pillars of support and develop a strategy for undermining each
  • Use oppressive or brutal acts by the regime as a recruiting tool for your movement
  • Isolate or remove from the movement people who use or advocate violence

As Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia and Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine fell to the colour revolutions which swept across Eastern Europe, each of the democratic movements paid tribute to Sharp’s contribution, yet he remained largely unknown to the public.

Despite these successes and a Nobel Peace Prize nomination in 2009 he has faced almost constant financial hardship and wild accusations of being a CIA front organisation. The Albert Einstein Institution based on the ground floor of his home is kept running by sheer force of personality and his fiercely loyal Executive Director, Jamila Raqib.

In 2009 I began filming a documentary following the impact of Sharp’s work from his tranquil rooftop orchid house, across four continents and eventually to Tahrir square where I slept alongside protesters who read his work by torchlight in the shadow of tanks.

Gene Sharp is no Che Guevara but he may have had more influence than any other political theorist of his generation.

His central message is that the power of dictatorships comes from the willing obedience of the people they govern – and that if the people can develop techniques of withholding their consent, a regime will crumble.

For decades now, people living under authoritarian regimes have made a pilgrimage to Gene Sharp for advice. His writing has helped millions of people around the world achieve their freedom without violence. “As soon as you choose to fight with violence you’re choosing to fight against your opponents best weapons and you have to be smarter than that,” he insists.

“People might be a little surprised when they come here, I don’t tell them what to do. They’ve got to learn how this non-violent struggle works so they can do it for themselves.”
Catching fire

To do this Sharp provides in his books a list of 198 “non-violent weapons”, ranging from the use of colours and symbols to mock funerals and boycotts.

Designed to be the direct equivalent of military weapons, they are techniques collated from a forensic study of defiance to tyranny throughout history.

“These non-violent weapons are very important because they give people an alternative,” he says. “If people don’t have these, if they can’t see that they are very powerful, they will go back to violence and war every time.”

After the Green uprising in Iran in 2009 many of the protesters were accused at their trials of using more than 100 of Sharp’s 198 methods.

His most translated and distributed work, From Dictatorship to Democracy was written for the Burmese democratic movement in 1993, after the imprisonment of Aung San Suu Kyi.
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Supermodel Gloria Mika

Because he had no specialist knowledge of the country he wrote a guide to toppling a dictatorship which was entirely generic. But Sharp’s weakness became the strength of the book allowing it to be easily translated and applicable in any country of the world across cultural and religious boundaries.

The book caught fire figuratively and literally.

From Burma word of mouth spread through Thailand to Indonesia where it was used against the military dictatorship there. Its success in helping to bring down Milosevic in Serbia in 2000 propelled it into use across Eastern Europe, South America and the Middle East.

When it reached Russia the intelligence services raided the print shop and the shops selling it mysteriously burned to the ground.

The Iranians became so worried they broadcast an animated propaganda film on state TV – of Gene Sharp plotting the overthrow of Iran from The White House.

President Hugo Chavez used his weekly television address to warn the country that Sharp was a threat to the national security of Venezuela.

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