Accordingly, the activists should have continued with direct nonviolent actions in order to keep the public mobilized and capable of demanding major transitional reforms, such as creating an interim national government, holding a referendum on a new constitution, releasing all political prisoners, holding free and fair elections, and ending censorship. By disbanding the mobilized public and leaving the political and geographical center of the revolution (Tahrir Square), the democracy movement allowed the creation of a vacuum that was immediately filled by the army and the Muslim Brotherhood. This was precisely the moment when the greatest and most durable gains could have been accomplished.
5. Don't put all your faith in new elites
One of the reasons why successful nonviolent revolutions sometimes fail during transition is the naive belief that real political change should lie in the hands of elites and charismatic individuals. The leaders of the nonviolent movement sometimes leave the scene after the dictator is gone and a new government installed, only to realize later that they ceded the field too early. Corruption and abuse of newfound power can mar the positive achievements of successful nonviolent revolutions. Nearly ten years after Georgia's 2003 Rose Revolution, which brought unprecedented reforms to the small former Soviet state, President Mikhail Saakashvili stands accused of resorting to authoritarian methods.
Democracy movements should keep newly elected governments under public pressure and accountable from day one. The case of Serbia is again instructive. Only weeks after Milosevic was defeated, hundreds of billboards appeared in the streets of Belgrade with the image of a bulldozer (the symbol of the revolution) and an accompanying message: "Behave yourself -- we are watching you." Serbia, at the time, had 4,300 registered bulldozers and about 6 million potential riders. So the message targeting the newly elected government was clear: "Don't forget that the government should answer to the people." After all, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Even if the nonviolent revolution brings a democratic government, civil society must stay vigilant and keep every future government accountable. Then democracy will come.
The events of 2011 have shown that nonviolent struggle can be an effective tool for challenging autocrats. The basic techniques of such struggle -- above all the core principles of unity, planning, and nonviolent discipline -- are now widely known to democratic activists around the world. The same strategic approach should now be applied to the problem of transition as well. No sooner have activists succeeded in achieving victory over a dictator than they find themselves confronted by persistent instability, religious conflicts, military coups, or debilitating political corruption. Yet experience shows us that such problems can be pre-empted or successfully confronted if addressed early in the planning process.
Preventing counterrevolutionary coups, installing a democratic government through free and fair elections, and building durable democratic institutions are, of course, all part of a long-term process -- one that is notably less "sexy" than confronting an unpopular dictator. Yet successful movements must have the patience, stamina, focus, and courage to keep building new societies even when the lights and cameras are gone.