How to successfully remove oppressive regimes by non-violent means; and how you can help world peace


By Paul Sinclair (One World One People) 2/3/11

Events are rapidly occurring throughout the Middle East as brave people in different countries rise up against oppressive dictatorships and autocratic regimes. Fear, intimidation and violence are normally the means such oppressors use to maintain their control over the populace. People can only take so much suffering under an oppressive regime, but when individuals and organised groups fight back with violence then they will almost always be choosing to fight against the superior weapons of their oppressors — playing right into their hands. Oppressive regimes are always well equipped to use overwhelming violence through superior weapons, logistics and forces. That’s why violent uprisings throughout history have often triggered brutal crackdowns that have left already vulnerable populations even more helpless and even worse off than before.

Oppressive regimes

Yet there is another option that is often little known about and even less properly understood. It is the skilful use of individual and organised group non-violence. As we will see, it is in reality the only means to bring about a lasting, peacefully-lead, democratic society.


‘Non-violence in its dynamic condition means conscious suffering. It does not mean meek submission to the will of the evil-doer, but it means putting of one’s whole soul against the will of the tyrant. Working under this law of our being, it is possible for a single individual to defy the whole might of an unjust empire to save his honour, his religion, his soul, and lay the foundation for that empire’s fall or its regeneration.’
– Mahatma Gandhi

The present uprising in the Middle East began in Tunisia and was triggered off by one person through a horrific act of self-less resistance. Mohammed Bouazizi was an impoverished 26-year-old fruit and vegetable seller who was already struggling to feed his family when local police confiscated his cart because he lacked a permit. When he resisted he was beaten up and local officials then refused to hear his complaint. In response, on December 17th 2010, he doused himself in paint thinner and set himself on fire in front of his local municipal office.
Mohammed Bouazizi

Amidst stifling high unemployment, poverty, corruption and a lack of basic human rights his action set off a chain reaction of events that ultimately brought down the country’s long standing President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and brought government commitment to urgent widespread reform.

As brave as Mohammed Bouazizi's act of defiance was we recommend against people resorting to such extreme measures as deliberate self-harm as there are other far less brutal, but equally effective, ways to act:

In Egypt, we saw a much more organised and deliberate effort to use non-violent methods to successfully remove an entrenched Egyptian Leadership and demand similar widespread reform. Much of that organised effort was inspired by the information from a little known, but highly influential book: From Dictatorship to Democracy, by Gene Sharpe. Gene Sharp has dedicated his life to the study of non-violence and is a leading world authority on its practical use. We will now give a brief summary on some of the key steps he advocates that have recently been seen practised in the Middle East: 1
From Dictatorship to Democracy


Develop a strategy for winning freedom and a vision of the society you want

Using Facebook and other internet social networking sites Egyptian young people helped to carefully organise demonstrations and protest marches trying to keep them as peaceful as possible. Egyptian protestors demanded nothing less than the removal of the president Hosni Mubarak and his deputies to be replaced by civilian rule decided by democratic elections. They also demanded an end to martial law, corruption as well as freedom and justice for all.

Overcome fear by small acts of resistance

In Egypt we saw protestors occupy Tahrir Square and openly defy orders to leave. That continued occupation — even despite violent efforts to remove them — became a powerful symbolic focal point for their campaign.

Use colours and symbols to demonstrate unity of resistance

When protestors marched on Pearl Square to attempt to re-occupy it after security forces had violently cleared it, they wore white sheets symbolising their readiness for martyrdom; others carried the national flag of Bahrain; others carried flowers and signs that stated they were peaceful. Teenage girls bravely risked being shot by entering ‘no go’ zones in front of armed security forces. They waved flowers above their heads before laying them gently down on the ground in front of the on-looking security forces as a symbolic peace offering. With the eyes of the world watching a short time later the security forces were ordered to leave the area, allowing the protestors to retake Pearl Square without any blood being shed.


Learn from historical examples of the successes of non-violent movements

Mahatma Gandhi famously used non-violence to defeat and overturn unjust laws that oppressed Indians in South Africa; liberate India from British Rule; and peacefully end numerous violent uprisings during the partition of India. Those are but a few of his extraordinary achievements often against seemingly impossible odds. He claimed, ‘I have been practicing with scientific precision non-violence and its possibilities for an unbroken period of over fifty years. I have applied it in every walk of life — domestic, institutional, economic and political. I know of no single case in which it has failed.’

‘The science of non-violence’ as Gandhi often called it, was later used by Martin Luther King Junior to help African Americans in the United States win civil rights. Nelson Mandela also used it to peacefully end apartheid in South Africa. Indeed, history provides plenty of instances when men and women bravely faced violence with non-violence — sometimes even allowing themselves to be slaughtered rather than retaliate. The result on those occasions was often that armed opponents threw down their weapons and fled, shamed and shaken to the core of their being by the sight of brave souls willing to value the lives of others above their own. On other occasions previously hard-hearted and determined enemies were converted into admirers and friends.


‘In one village a notoriously fierce communal agitator came up to Gandhi in front of hundreds of paralyzed onlookers, put his hands around Gandhi's slender throat, and began choking the life out of him. Such is the height to which Gandhi had grown that there was not even a flicker of hostility in his eyes, not a word of protest. He yielded himself completely to the flood of love within him, and the man broke down like a little child and fell sobbing at his feet. For those who watched, it seemed a miracle. For Gandhi, who had got used to the "miracles" of love, it only proved for the hundredth time in his own life the depth of the words … "Hatred does not cease by hatred at any time; hatred ceases by love. This is an unalterable law." ’ – Eknath Easwaran, Gandhi the Man: The Story of His Transformation. 2



Use non-violent "weapons"

The book From Dictatorship to Democracy lists 198 non-violent "weapons". Some of the obvious ones used in Egypt included demonstrations, marches, labour strikes and various acts of civil disobedience.

Any actions that weakens a regime and strengthens and unifies the populace can be considered as effective non-violent "weapons". In Egypt not only did the majority of protestors march peacefully, some even picked up rubbish and cleaned the streets as they went. Others organised volunteer groups to carry out civil duties like local street cleaning, all of which demonstrated that they were not violent, disorganised protestors intent on causing trouble and destroying things; but the very opposite. They showed they were people of good character who had only the highest interests of their society at heart. They showed they could therefore be trusted by the populace who then supported them in decisive numbers.


Identify the dictatorship's pillars of support and develop a strategy for undermining each

When the Egyptian authorities mobilised the army, tanks entered the streets of Cairo. Identifying the Egyptian army as the central pillar of support for the regime, protestors soon set about embracing the soldiers as their own. With the resulting growing sympathy and support amongst soldiers for the protestors the army soon became the key defender of the protestors. Generally speaking, it is far easier for military forces to carry out orders to crack down violently on angry protestors who show hostility toward them than it is to attack peaceful protestors who openly embrace them as friends.


Use oppressive or brutal acts by the regime as a recruiting tool for your movement

Any use of violence by a regime against peaceful protestors should be reported truthfully and publicised as much as possible. Nothing outrages people and stirs them to action faster than seeing grave injustices carried out against peaceful, un-armed, innocent people.

In Egypt, when Hosni Mubarak announced publicly he would not be standing down even after thirteen days of continuous protests in which many had been killed and injured, many began to lose heart. Then Google Executive Wael Ghonim — who had just been released from police custody after twelve days for protesting — was invited to speak on TV. He had been a key figure in using Facebook to help organise the protests from the start. In an emotional interview in which he spoke from his heart and shed tears for those injured and killed in the protests, he humbly urged non-violence, unity and courage. His interview re-energised the protest and hundreds of thousands of people returned to the streets of Cairo to protest the following day.
Wael Ghonim


Isolate or remove from the movement people who use or advocate violence

Organised groups of volunteers searched protestors who were trying to enter Tahrir Square and confiscated any weapons they found on them. Even when anti-government protestors came under attack from stone-throwing pro-government supporters and some began to throw stones back; other brave souls deliberately put themselves in the line of fire to try to stop them.


History has frequently shown that when an oppressive regime is overthrown with violence a new repressive regime simply takes its place. That can happen because those who lead the victorious opposition against the regime often feel they themselves have earned the right to take the reigns of power. Successful military organisations and their commanders rely on secrecy, planning, organisation, unquestioning obedience and often brute force to maintain discipline and order. Those traits can lead them to rule autocratically rather than allow democratic civilian rule — unless the civilian population have demonstrated their united power through organised non-violence like we have seen in Egypt. The key is teaching people about non-violence and how it works.

In summary, no oppressive regime can function and maintain power without the co-operation of the people it rules over. Organised non-violent actions represent the most effective means to undermine an oppressive regime's support and its ability to function.


'Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can't ride you unless your back is bent.' - Martin Luther King Jr
Martin Luther King Jr



For detailed, practical information on organising non-violent opposition to dictatorships, authoritarian regimes and unwanted foreign occupiers From Dictatorship to Democracy can be viewed and downloaded online for free and is presently available in some twenty-four languages (simply click here or on the blue hightlighted title above).



How to overcome fear and remove hatred and violence from long oppressed populations

All of the information above will be of limited use if the will of the people is overwelmingly paralysed by fear. Furthermore, real non-violence cannot be practiced on mass by people who have become drugged by the poison of anger, hatred and the desire for vengence. What can be done to overcome these dangers?

For non-violence to be most effective it needs to applied to not just our actions, but to our thoughts and words as well. Mahatma Gandhi taught that to wrestle with and against evil in the world we must overcome it within ourselves first. Having won the inner battle a person can then help overcome it in the world. For example, a person may campaign for peace, yet display so much anger in their "peace demonstrations" that all they achieve in the end is the disruption of everybody’s peace, including their own. This is why Gandhi would tell people to first be the change they want to see in others.
Mahatma Gandhi

In his early experiments with non-violence whilst struggling for rights for oppressed Indians in South Africa, Gandhi learned a vital lesson from his Muslims brothers. In the modern world we are all familiar with the Islamic term Jihad or Holy War, which has become synonymous with waging violent war. To Gandhi and his Muslim brothers, however, Jihad meant waging an inner war against anger, hatred, fear, greed, envy, vice and so on. It is these inner thieves that help to rob us of our precious jewels of inner peace and happiness and keep us blindly chained as slaves to pain and suffering. One who takes up the inner struggle against them soon learns to become a master of self-control. Through keeping a careful watch over the mind any inner thieves that arise are quickly identified, arrested and evicted. The more we faithfully do that, the more it becomes a habit, the weaker those thoughts and feelings become and the stronger we grow on the inside. In this way, rather than being enslaved by our emotions we calmly and effortlessly learn to channel our emotions into wise, constructive actions. Steadfastly marching toward inner freedom and happiness we slowly gather an army of good habits and qualities which eagerly join the battle. Victory is at hand when we begin to lose all fear of losing our mortal body as we start to experience our true nature as an immortal soul. As Gandhi himself once said, ‘A man who fears no one on earth would consider it too troublesome even to summon up anger against one who is vainly trying to injure him.’

One sign of a true spiritual warrior is that they have no problem forgiving those who wrong them. They know that the key to genuinely forgiving others is always to first separate people from their actions:


'Hate the sin and not the sinner' is a precept which, though easy enough to understand, is rarely practiced, and that is why the poison of hatred spreads in the world. – Gandhi


Forgiveness does not mean allowing wrongdoers to escape from the consequences of their wrong actions. Nor does it mean freeing them from their responsibilities to make amends for those wrong actions. It just means that one who successfully forgives another effectively renounces all desire for revenge and all feelings of anger and hatred toward the wrongdoer. Anger and hatred stress the nervous system and poison the mind. They bring only suffering to whoever harbours them in their consciousness as well as to others they interact with. Forgiveness is holiness, it is the might of the mightiest. Forgiveness is the sign of civilised man; it is the divinely-inspired human force that prevents humanity from destroying itself.


Meditation: the greatest weapon of all for winning inner struggles

Since ancient times, meditation has been used as the most effective means to turn the search light of the senses within to reveal the soul. Meditation practice is used to elicit clear states of consciousness and to facilitate progressive, authentic spiritual growth. Regular daily meditation provides a vital means for all those involved in non-violent struggle to temporarily escape from the world and all its problems and rest in the inner peace of the soul kingdom within. Recharged and refreshed, centred in soul calmness and awareness, they can then carry out their vital tasks and duties more effectively and efficiently. Ever deeper meditation allows one to experience ever more refined and purer, clearer states of consciousness. This brings about the unfoldment of innate, soul qualities. Evidence of soul qualities include humility, radiance of character, fearlessness, purity of heart, self-discipline, wisdom, straightforwardness, truthfulness, gentleness, compassion for all, peacefulness, non-slanderousness, freedom from anger, hatred and revenge; absence of conceit; lack of material attachment and so on. All are the qualities of the true spiritual warriors the world needs to win not just freedom and justice for all - but the holy grail of world peace.

For more information on meditation please click here.


What you can do to help those living under oppressive regimes, and to help bring about world peace

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This article has been written in the hope of helping people to successfully gain their freedom from oppressors with a minimum of bloodshed. It is also humbly offered as a means to empower those who desire world peace for themselves and their loved ones. Please help by sharing it with as many people as possible through our Facebook cause page on the right (or use this link); other social media sites and email in order to help spread accurate knowledge of non-violence throughout the world. Particularly send it to anyone you know who lacks basic rights.

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As a duty to others endeavour to live consciously by making regular, honest efforts to observe your own thoughts and behaviour. Change what you don’t like and be the change you want to see in others.

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As a service to others use this link on how to meditate to acquire accurate information and endeavour to make meditation into a regular spiritual habit. Meditate to cultivate inner happiness so that even when the storms of life's trials are howling all around you, you will remain calm and undisturbed — centred in the bliss of soul awareness. You will then be much more able to make clear-headed, wise decisions and skilfully take efficient and effective actions to overcome whatever difficulties you are facing. You will also become much more successful at whatever worthwhile endeavours you decide to undertake and in this way you will fulfil yourself and the purposes of life itself.


Further reading:

Satyagraha and the Mysterious Power of Gandhi's Non-violence, 11 September 2006 - updated 29 October 2010.
Our charity fiction book Shanti the Grass-Eating Lion: a popular tale of non-violence and forgiveness. This family book is especially useful for children and young people.


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References:

1. Ruaridh Arrow,Gene Sharp: Author of the nonviolent revolution rulebook, BBC, 21/2/2011.

2.

Eknath Easwaran (2001), Gandhi the Man: The Story of His Transformation, 3rd edition, Nilgiri Press.



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