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Building Blocks of Successful Revolutions

Interviewee: Peter Ackerman, Founding Chair, International Center on Nonviolent Conflict
Interviewer: Jayshree Bajoria, Senior Staff Writer, CFR.org
March 23, 2011

The public uprisings sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa have led to greater international focus on civil resistance movements. Peter Ackerman, founding chair of the Washington-based independent International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, says the phenomenon of civil resistance movements is underrated  and not well understood internationally, despite the fact that it is currently driving transition in much of the world.

The similarity among these movements--from the color revolutions in the former Soviet bloc countries to the current protests in the Middle East--transcend culture, says Ackerman, also executive producer of Bringing Down a Dictator, the Peabody-award-winning documentary that chronicled the fall of Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia.

Any civil resistance movement must have three ingredients to succeed, says Ackerman: unification around a vision for the future, in most cases a constitutional democracy, and a leadership for the transition period; a diverse set of nonviolent tactics that cause significant disruption to the prevalent order; and planning on how to sequence those tactics to maximize effect so that military or the regime is split.

Discussing ongoing movements in the Mideast and North Africa, he expresses greater hope for Egypt and Tunisia than for Libya. "Generally, movements that come to power through violence don't necessarily end up as democratic as one would like," he says. Because of the violence in Libya, he says, it "is a tragedy in the making."

"Without exception, these movements don't succeed unless they are indigenously driven," he says. The place where the international community can help, he adds, is sharing information about best practices, and providing money and resources to opposition movements.

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