Gene Sharp, an 83-year-old Boston-based academic, was not on the ground in Tunis or Cairo, but his tactics certainly were. For more than half a century, Sharp has been working to turn the philosophies of nonviolent protest devised by Henry David Thoreau and Mohandas Gandhi into a blueprint that can be put into practice by activists around the world.
Over the last few decades, his handbook for peaceful revolt -- the 1973 classic The Politics of Nonviolent Action, which covers everything from "camouflaged meetings of protest" to "disclosing identities of secret agents" -- has been deployed by protesters from Burma to Zimbabwe to the "color revolutions" that swept through the former communist world. In 2005, Sharp, often called the Clausewitz of nonviolence, was discovered yet again by the April 6 Youth Movement, a youth activist group that became one of the central organizers of the protests that this year brought down Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak.
April 6 also took inspiration and practical instruction from the Center for Applied NonViolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS), a group led by Srdja Popovic, a onetime marine biology student turned revolutionary, and composed of other veterans of Otpor ("Resistance" in Serbian), the youth movement that organized the 1990s student uprisings that ultimately toppled Slobodan Milosevic. Today, Popovic's goal is to help spread Otpor's model around the world, and arguably he has succeeded. His group inspired the Arab Spring protesters directly and indirectly, from the Otpor fist that made it into the logo of the April 6 movement to Arabic-subtitled copies of the Otpor documentary Bringing Down a Dictator.
Of course, both Popovic and Sharp are quick to note that the real architects of the Egyptian revolution were the masses who thronged Tahrir Square. "There are two things you need to avoid if you don't want your movement to be doomed: One is violence; the other is taking advice from foreigners," Popovic said this year. But even if they didn't carry revolution in a suitcase to the Middle East, it is undeniable that these bold global proselytizers of nonviolence have helped change the world in a very real way this year.
Muse Desmond Tutu.
Stimulus or austerity? Unity -- only united American leaders can overcome the economic and political crisis the United States is facing.
America or China? America, as the ideals of freedom, human rights, democracy, and private entrepreneurship, at least for me, still stand stronger and more important as opposed to marvelous Chinese achievements of economic growth, discipline, and stability.
Arab Spring or Arab Winter? Arab Spring, with its prospects for democracy for millions, is a definite fact. And whether this winter or next spring will be limited only to the Arab world and countries like Syria, Bahrain, and Iran -- or pose a challenge to other non-Arab autocrats in places like Belarus, Zimbabwe, or Burma -- is yet to be seen.
Reading list Small Acts of Resistance, by Steve Crawshaw and John Jackson; The Autumn of the Patriarch, by Gabriel García Márquez; Join the Club, by Tina Rosenberg.
Best idea The Maldives as the first carbon-neutral country.
Worst idea That Arabs are "too immature for democracy."
Darko Vojinovic; Orjan F. Ellingvag/Dagens Naeringsliv/Corbis