CANVAS has worked with activists from 50 countries. It cannot point to 50 revolutions.
The most prosaic reason is that often the people it trains aren't the ones in charge of a movement. Some groups, like Georgia's and Ukraine's dissidents, choose to model themselves on Otpor. In Iran, by contrast, though small groups of CANVAS trainees held successful actions, the leaders of the Green Revolution have not adopted Otpor's tactics.
The more profound reason, however, is that context matters. A very closed society, the kind that most desperately needs a strong democracy movement, is the place least able to grow one. By the end of the Burma workshop, Popovic and Djinovic were content; the students had understood the lessons. But what they could do with them was not clear. On the workshop's last day, I asked the members of the Barefoot Campaign group whether they would try to start one in Burma. The strategies were wonderful, valuable, fresh, they said -- but better for someone else. "I am not sure it's practical for me," Pink Shirt said.
The Serbs argue that a country's level of repression is not dispositive. Popovic told the Burmese that far more important than the government's brutality is their own level of skill and commitment; a well-organized and committed democracy movement can gradually win enough freedom to work. "Political space is never granted. It is always conquered," he said. It was easier to work in Serbia in 2000 than it had been in 1991 because the opposition had won important concessions over that time. "Serbia built those advantages," he said. For example, it forced Milosevic to respect local election results in 1996 that left municipal television stations in opposition hands. But could this apply to Burma? Winning political space there could take decades and there was no guarantee that the country would even move in the right direction.
Burma, however, is the extreme. Most authoritarian countries are closer to Milosevic's Serbia, or Mubarak's Egypt: autocratic governments that do permit some opposition media and political activity. Algeria, Angola, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Nicaragua, Russia, and Venezuela, to name a few, follow this model. And though the Serbs cannot carry revolution in their suitcases, their strategies can greatly increase the chance that when there is a moment that shakes a dictatorship, the opposition will be able to take advantage of it.
The Egyptian example shows how. The April 6 movement knew about Otpor and adopted the fist as its logo even before Mohamed Adel went to Belgrade. The course he took there was the same one the Burmese took. Last April, Serbian newspapers carried a front page photo of a protest in Egypt, with demonstrators waving the April 6 flag, complete with a familiar fist logo. "The Otpor fist threatening Mubarak?" the headline read. As images of demonstrators in Tahrir Square hoisting their children onto Egyptian Army tanks filtered out to the rest of the world last week, Popovic recalled that on Adel's power graph, the military loomed particularly large; it was crucial, he had realized, to pull out that pillar.
The Serbs never met Adel again, but their young Egyptian student kept emailing, occasionally pointing out mistakes in Arabic translations of CANVAS materials. He had gone home with copies of Bringing Down a Dictator subtitled in Arabic and continued to download books. He conducted miniature versions of the CANVAS workshop in Egypt, stressing unity, nonviolent discipline, the importance of clear goals, and keeping members engaged.
Just after the Jan. 25 protests began a 26-page pamphlet called "How to Protest Intelligently" -- authored anonymously, but widely attributed to the April 6 group -- began circulating in Cairo. It laid out the goals of the protests: taking over government buildings, winning over the police and Army, and protecting fellow protesters. It instructed people to carry roses, chant positive slogans, gather in their own neighborhoods, and persuade policemen to change sides by reminding them their own families could be among the protesters. It also gave practical advice on what demonstrators should wear and carry to protect themselves from tear gas and police batons. It suggested that they carry signs reading "Police and People Together Against the Regime."
The protests were a model of unity, tolerance, and nonviolent discipline. The different groups put aside their individual flags and symbols to show only the Egyptian flag and to speak, as much as possible, with one voice. Protesters swept the square clean and protected shops, detaining looters and making them give back the stolen goods. Coptic Christians in Tahrir Square formed ranks to protect the Muslims while they prayed; when the Christians celebrated Mass, the Muslims formed a ring around them. Together they embraced soldiers and faced the police with roses. They sang songs and wore silly hats. It had an authenticity that was uniquely Egyptian, but it was also textbook CANVAS.
CANVAS has worked with dissidents from almost every country in the Middle East; the region contains one of CANVAS's biggest successes, Lebanon, and one of its most disappointing failures, Iran. Popovic wonders whether Iran could turn out differently next time: What would happen if the Green Movement were to organize not around election fraud, but staged a Salt March instead, focusing on unemployment, low wages, and corruption? Iran is like Tunisia and Egypt were: a young, relatively well-educated population and a corrupt authoritarian government dependent on fear to keep people in line. "Governments that rely for decades on fear become very inflexible," said Popovic. "The pillars of the regime support it out of fear. The moment the fear factor disappears and people are fearless with the police and hugging the military, you have lost your main pillars." Hosni Mubarak no doubt would have ruefully observed the same thing.
In Burma, it is hard to imagine what can vanquish that fear -- what can turn people from passive victims into daring heroes -- unless people like Pink Shirt do it themselves. In the Middle East, however, the fear is already crumbling, and the heroism is infecting country after country. This is a huge advantage. But for dictatorship to fall throughout the region, the protesters must catch more from Egypt than audacity.