It's been a bad year for bad guys. Indeed, if anyone had predicted at the end of 2010 that in the following twelve months Mubarak of Egypt and Ben Ali of Tunis would step down and face prosecution, that Qaddafi, Kim Jong Il, and Osama Bin Laden would be dead, and that Ratko Mladic would be in jail, no one would have believed it.
Much has been written about the nonviolent revolutions driven by "People Power" youth movements in Tunisia and Egypt. Their unity, planning, and nonviolent discipline inspired half a dozen additional nonviolent movements, posing the first serious challenge to dictatorships in decades, and prompting leaders in Morocco, Jordan, and even Burma to promise reforms, launch talks with banned opposition parties, and reform constitutions. It encouraged tens of thousands of Russians to demand free and fair elections this past winter in the biggest countrywide protests since the downfall of the Soviet Union.
2011 was the year when mass nonviolent struggle proved its worth as a tool for toppling brutal and long-lasting dictatorships. Yet activist movements have not been as successful when it comes to installing and sustaining democratic forms of government.
Late last year, more than 90 percent of registered Tunisians voted in their first fair elections in almost 30 years. The same month, however, the streets of Cairo witnessed ugly scenes of sectarian violence and a military crackdown on protestors. That startling contrast should prompt us to ask why.
We can find a useful analogy in President John F. Kennedy's words from 1961, when he described the objective of the U.S. space program as "landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth." It seems that some of these nonviolent revolutions have been limited solely to removing incumbent regimes without much thought about what was to follow. In other words, they've focused on landing a man on the moon without considering the return journey.
Removing the incumbent regime is only one component of a successful democratic revolution. Equally essential are the creation of a new democratic government and protecting it from the potential threat of a coup d'état. How do we explain the fragility or failure of some of the nonviolent revolutions after such courageous struggles to remove dictatorships? How is it that activists failed to map out a strategy for the transition to a democratic government and the means for sustaining that change?