Tag Archives: from dictatorship to democracy

What could Libya, Egypt and Syria have used from From Dictatorship to Democracy?


So apparently Libya, in place of its former tyrant, Moammar Gadhafi, is overrun by militias and warlords in lieu of a central state. Now, class, what did the people involved in toppling Gadhafi forget to do in order to ensure the stability of their country post-topple?

That’s right! They forgot to concurrently build an independent society or parallel government to take over once the conflict is over, as advised in From Dictatorship to Democracy. That step eases the transition from the former regime to the new (ideally better) one instead of allowing everything to just devolve into chaos. Now you can see for yourself in black and white (and red…) how important that step is. Remember: don’t create a power vacuum!

Of course, there are a lot of things that “movement” did that also go against the advice in FDTD (e.g. violence), so I’m not saying it’s otherwise a perfect role model of the book’s ideas. Nor am I saying it’s easy to do any of these things. (Obviously, or else Occupy wouldn’t have dissolved into nothingness.)


Now, on that note, what about Egypt? That was a bit different, wasn’t it? Instead of descending into shattered bits of anarchy, there was a coup d’etat by the military. Which Sharpian guidelines could they have benefitted from?

That’s right! Don’t replace one dictatorship with another! (Sharp also flat-out advises against staging a coup d’etat.) If you just end up with another dictatorship (which seems a fair enough term to use for military rule over there), what was the point of all that struggle, right?


As for Syria, I wonder if strictly adhering to non-violence would have benefitted the rebels in the long run. The international community would probably have been decisively on their side instead of the ambivalence they now express, and Assad may have been pressured into standing down. Instead, thousands have died and millions are displaced–and for what?

By way of comparison, look at Ukraine, whose leader fled Kiev for no apparent reason (yeah, I know, the protestors, but that didn’t seem to bother Assad). Obviously there must be some key difference between the circumstances to have provoked this response instead of a violent crackdown. I’ll leave that as an exercise for the class.

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The Grand Strategy — the final piece of the Gene Sharp summaries

This is the final summary I’m leaving here. It’s the second step in the organization of a social movement, where you determine the most strategic ways to launch the conflict and sketch out its general stages.

Before reading about this step, I first recommend reading at least the summaries of From Dictatorship to Democracy and Self-Liberation, or you won’t know what this is all for!

And before actually crafting your Grand Strategy, you should have already completed a Strategic Estimate or you won’t have laid the proper groundwork on which to build the foundation of your movement.


Grand strategy is the master concept for the conduct of the conflict, the conception that serves to coordinate and direct all appropriate and available resources (economic, human, moral, etc.) of the population or group to attain its objectives in a conflict. It is an overall plan for conducting the struggle that makes it possible to anticipate how the struggle as a whole should proceed. How can the struggle be won? How is the desired change to be achieved?

In complex struggles, including those against repressive regimes, prior to the initiation of conflict it is usually very difficult, and often impossible, to plan the concrete  implementation of the grand strategy from the first campaign to the last. In these cases, the strategic plan should be as concrete and specific as possible for implementation of the strategy for the initial campaign, but will be necessarily vague for future campaigns. This is because the limited objectives of future campaigns, their strategies, timing, and tactical activities will be determined in large part by changes in the conflict situation that will occur during the first stage or stages of the struggle. Strategists will therefore need to keep a close eye on the progress of the struggle, and develop the concrete strategic plans for future campaigns accordingly, while the conflict is ongoing.

The planners’ first draft of a grand strategy might be initially guided by the thinking of several persons, but the final text may be prepared by a single person or a team. Once drafted, it will need to be critically considered by a larger group, all members of which will need to have studied all of the designated readings.

Initial Questions

Study the Strategic Estimate you’ve drafted up carefully. Determine whether conditions are suitable for nonviolent struggle. They must be ripe if campaigns are going to be successful.

What are the objectives?

Estimate the length of the forthcoming struggle. Will more than one campaign be required? Provision must be made for an error of judgment in the strategic estimate and for contingency tactics if the struggle turns out to be long instead of brief.

Determine which mechanism of change will be necessary:

  • Conversion: Those in the regime have a change of heart. Rare.
  • Accomodation: Both sides come to a compromise. Much more common.
  • Coercion: The resisters have gained so much power that regime must bend to their will.
  • Disintegration: The regime completely falls apart. Rare.

How do the strengths and weaknesses of the contending groups compare?

On what issues will it be extremely important to act?

What are the main leverages to be employed by the resisters?

Do the issues and the available leverages match?

How do the leverages available to the resisters relate to shaping the grand strategy for the resisters?

How do the available leverages of the resisters relate to the identified weaknesses of the opponents?

Which pillars of support for the opponents are potentially vulnerable to application of the leverages available to the resisters?

How might the opponents oppose the nonviolent resistance group’s course of action?


What is the broad conception of how the struggle is to be waged and how are the objectives to be achieved? Which general means of pressure and action might be applied? What is to be the main thrust of the nonviolent struggle against the opponents? Through economic losses? By undermining the opponents’ legitimacy? Through political paralysis? Is the nonviolent struggle group able to weaken or remove most or all of the sources of power of the opponent group?

By what kinds of action and in what stages could the sources of power of the opponents be incrementally weakened and severed?

Sketch out the general phases of the struggle. Nonviolent struggle normally includes four phases:

  • Preparation for the conflict
  • Initiation of action to gain the objective(s)
  • Development of the ongoing struggle
  • After success, consolidation of the gains

How can social order be maintained in the midst of the conflict?

How can the society continue to meet its basic needs during the course of the struggle?

Organizing and Outreach

What ways might there be for the resisting population to mobilize other persons and groups to participate in a struggle over these issues?

How can the real issues be used to advance mobilization of resistance, to shrink support for the opponents, and to change loyalties within the opponent group and third parties?

What types of symbolism can be most effective in mobilizing the population?

How can the oppressed population muster sufficient self-confidence and strength to act to challenge the dictatorship, even initially in a limited way?

How could the population’s capacity to apply noncooperation and defiance be increased with time and experience?

Assess what skills will be needed during future individual campaigns, and whether these skills are already present among expected resisters. If not, then preparations to develop these skills will be a necessary task.

How can participants be trained?

What resources (finances, equipment, etc.) will be required throughout the struggle?

How can the resisting population simultaneously persist in its defiance and also maintain the necessary nonviolent discipline?


Determine which specific methods of nonviolent action are most appropriate to this particular conflict. This decision will need to be taken in the light of a variety of factors: the issues at stake, the nature of the contending groups, the type of culture and society of each, the social and political context of the conflict, the mechanisms of change intended by the nonviolent group (as to convert or to coerce), the experience of the nonviolent group, their ability in applying nonviolent action, the type of repression and other countermeasures expected, the ability of the nonviolent group to withstand them, and the intensities of commitment to the struggle within the nonviolent group. Can even use methods other than nonviolent resistence to complement the struggle: legal action, public education, publicity, etc.

Choose a limited objective for the initial campaign

The issues for limited campaigns should be ones that can arouse wide support throughout the population. Also, the selected issues should be ones that can be seen to be clearly justified, and be ones that the regime will have difficulty in repudiating. The issues usually should also be ones on which the regime can reluctantly give way or on which the regime might be defeated by empowered people.

How might the long-term struggle best begin?

What might be the objectives of a series of limited campaigns for the resistance to gain strength and limit the power of the opponents?

The End

As victory approaches, how can the resistance continue to build the institutional base of the society after the previous regime has ended to make the transition as smooth as possible?

Formulate a projection of likely long-term consequences of the struggle.


If this or any other of the summaries has been helpful to anyone, please let me know, as a comment or otherwise. (Remember, feedback is an important part of strategy!) Apparently this site is actually getting views from people around the world, and even if a tenth of those views are real people as opposed to spam bots, I’d love to hear if these summaries have been inspiring or played a role in your organization efforts (or if they leave something to be desired!).


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The Strategic Estimate — another Gene Sharp summary

This is a summary of part of Gene Sharp’s book Self-Liberation. Because Self-Liberation is so long and dense, I figured I should give the Strategic Estimate its own summary to aid people in that first step along the road to organizing. 

After completing the Strategic Estimate, the next step is the Grand Strategy, which I also gave its own summary.


The Strategic Estimate

A strategic estimate is a calculation and comparison of the strengths and the weaknesses of the nonviolent struggle group and that group’s opponents, as seen within the broad social, historical, political, and economic context of the society in which the conflict occurs.

In addition to providing the necessary understanding in order to form a grand strategy, the estimate allows the reader to find needed information quickly and will be of great assistance when choosing specific types of methods for use during the conflict. For example, if the opponent group is heavily dependent on the grievance group for meeting certain needs, methods of noncooperation may prove to be highly effective. However, if there is no such dependence, noncooperation is unlikely to be useful.

Update the strategic estimate as the conflict situation changes.

Here are the various domains of the situation and how to assess them:

1. The general conflict situation

Determine the causes of the conflict, list the grievances, formulate desired changes.

Factors that could have a conceivable impact either on the opponent group or on the nonviolent struggle group:

  • Terrain and geography (including land forms and waterways, and how they may assist or impede one or the other side in the conflict)
  • Transportation (including all available means of transportation for either side in the conflict, local and national transportation infrastructure, alternative routes, and how these might impact the capabilities of either side)
  • Communications (all types, access, extent of controls, surveillance, issues of privacy, etc.)
  • Climate and weather (including seasonal variations and their possible impact on transportation, communications, food and agriculture, and activities of either side)
  • Political system and governing regime (including their characteristics and capacities on various levels, from the top echelons down to small units; any variations in central control or local initiatives; and who controls the State and the roles or functions of the State, political parties, and controlled subordinate organizations)
  • Economic system (including both type and condition of the economy, strength and degree of independence of unions and business sectors, and degree of State intervention in the economy)
  • Judicial system (especially the degree to that this remains independent of the control of the State or of the opponent group)
  • Demographics (information about both the total population and the segment of the population related to the conflict, including statistical breakdowns by age groups, gender, population growth and death rates, population densities in varying locations, and literacy rates)
  • Population strata (including socioeconomic classes, ethnicities, religion, language, culture, status of indigenous and immigrant populations, etc.; geographical distribution of such; any variations or differences in these groups in satisfaction, loyalties, or economic interests; and also any conflicts between or among different population groups, whether or not the reasons for such conflicts are related to the nonviolent struggle)
  • Control of economic resources and life support (fuel, food, water, etc., and consequences for dependency of one side on the other)
  • Status of civil society (extent and condition of nongovernmental organizations and social life, including degree of organization and autonomy from the State; and status of other aspects of social life and organization that lie outside control of the political system and/or the regime)

Examine the immediate general political situation. Are special controls, such as martial law or other means of serious repression, in effect? What are the current political and economic currents and trends?

2. The issues and objectives of the contending groups

The issues and objectives of the two contending groups, and how fundamental each side believes them to be, are likely to have important consequences on the actions of both sides during the conflict.  They will likely influence the degree to which the opponent group is determined to resist or repress the resistance, the tenacity of the nonviolent struggle group to persist in the struggle despite repression, and the degree to which third parties or the general population are willing to side with the nonviolent struggle group.

Identify or develop accurate and clear statements of the issues at stake in the conflict from the perspectives of both the opponent group and the prospective nonviolent struggle group, based on declarations by each group or additional information from other sources.

What are the broad issues as seen by each side, and how important are they to the impending conflict?  Have the issues, or has the intensity of commitment to them, varied over time?

Identify the differing primary and secondary, short-term and long-term objectives of the two groups. (The stated  objectives are not always the full story; also include suspected or implied objectives.) To what degree are these objectives compatible or incompatible?

Are the resistance group’s objectives worth a major struggle, and why? What are the main obstacles to achieving the objectives?

3. The opponent group

  • Who are their key leaders?
  • What is their political system?
  • What is their social and cultural system?
  • What is their economic system?
  • Are these systems independent of each other, or closely interrelated? Are they dependent in any way on the political, social, or economic systems of the potential nonviolent struggle group?
  • To what degree are these respective systems controlled by the State structure?
  • What is the nature and importance of any religious, moral, ideological, or other doctrinal beliefs and commitments of the opponent group?
  • What are the demographics of the opponent group? (age, gender, birth and death rates, literacy, educational standards, and geographical distribution, etc.)
  • What is the degree of support for the opponent group’s system or regime among the general population and institutions?
  • What is the ideological situation (the degree of doctrinal support for the opponent group and/or regime, or for the resistance to its policies and controls)?
  • To what degree does the opponent group rely on each of its potential sources of power (authority or legitimacy, human resources,  particular skills or knowledge, psychological or ideological factors, material resources, ability to apply sanctions)?
  • What are the pillars of support of the opponent group (people, groups, and institutions) that supply the needed sources of power? Some of these pillars will require detailed examination. The pillars may include, but are not limited to moral and religious leaders and groups, labor groups, business and investment groups, etc.
  • To what extent are the pillars of support influenced, or actually or potentially controlled, by the opponent group itself? Are any influenced or controlled by the broad grievance group or the potential nonviolent struggle group? Which pillars are the strongest and most durable? Which pillars are the weakest and most vulnerable?
  • Who are the opponent group’s internal (domestic) allies, and what is their extent and reliability?
  • Who are the opponent group’s external (foreign) allies and what is their extent and reliability?
  • Can any of these be considered “natural allies” of the opponent group? (If the opponent is a government or a regime, these might include the army, intelligence services, civil servants, the business community, settlers, foreign governments, certain political parties, etc.)
  • Who are the “natural enemies” of the opponent group? (Examples may include repressed minorities, disaffected youth, the unemployed, workers, political parties, the lower, middle, or upper classes, etc.)
  • Is there any potential or actual support or sympathy for the nonviolent struggle group from within sectors of the opponent group itself?
  • What is the organizational structure of the opponent group (administration, organizational branches, complexity, efficiency, reliability, degree of initiative, degree of centralized controls, etc.)?
  • What is the opponent group’s military capacity (size and types of units, commanders of the important units and their character, etc.)?
  • What is the opponent group’s police capacity? (The same type of information obtained about military forces—as described above—needs to be obtained for police and other security forces as well.)
  • What intelligence organizations, if any, does the opponent group have at its disposal? What are their characteristics, including their known activities and their resources?
  • What is the level of the opponent group’s strategic skill?
  • To what degree does the opponent group have competent leadership?
  • What means of nonmilitary control are wielded by the opponent group (censorship, ownership of radio, television, and print media, financial means to influence behavior, etc.)?
  • What are the political fissures, internal conflicts, and other weaknesses in the opponent group, such as within the leadership group and supporting organizations, institutions, or population groups?
  • Are there any organizations or institutions that normally support the opponent group but might be targeted for transfer of loyalties or for organizational destruction?
  • Is the present leadership of the opponent group disputed or contested from within, through rivalries, power struggles, or other reasons?
  • What other vulnerabilities and weaknesses of the opponents can be identified (vulnerabilities and internal conflicts, ideological bankruptcy, economic crisis, etc.)?
  • How easy or difficult would it be for the opponents to make concessions to the resisters?

4. The nonviolent struggle group (and the wider grievance group)

  • What are the demographics of the nonviolent struggle group and its potential or actual sympathizers, including the general grievance group (age, gender, geographical distribution, literacy rates, and educational levels, etc.)?
  • What is their political system?
  • What is their social and cultural system?
  • What is their economic system?
  • Do these systems operate independently of each other, or are they closely interrelated? To what extent are they identical to, integrated with, or independent of, the political, social, or economic systems of the opponent group?
  • To what degree are these respective systems controlled by the State structure?
  • What is the nature and importance of any religious, moral, ideological, or other doctrinal beliefs or commitments of the grievance group and the nonviolent struggle group?
  • What is the broad ideological situation (the degree of doctrinal support for the nonviolent struggle group, and its ideas, positions, or platforms)?
  • What is the actual and potential degree of support for the nonviolent struggle group from the general grievance population, specific groups, institutions, and contact networks? Which groups can really help?
  • What sectors of the population are most or least likely to provide support or sympathy to the nonviolent struggle group over the course of the conflict?
  • What is the actual and potential degree of support for resistance from third parties or previously “neutral” sectors?
  • Who are the “natural allies” of the nonviolent struggle group? (e.g., students or youth, political parties and associations, religious, ethnic, or minority groups, etc.)
  • Who are the nonviolent struggle group’s current and potential internal and external allies?
  • What are the internal conflicts, rivalries, or power struggles within both the grievance group and the nonviolent struggle group (e.g., groups with differing ideological positions or long-term objectives)? Are there any rivalries between important sectors of the grievance group and the nonviolent struggle group?
  • Is there any potential or actual support or sympathy for the opponent group from within sectors of the general grievance group or the nonviolent struggle group?
  • What are the operative or potential sources of power of the nonviolent struggle group? What are the operative or potential sources of power of the general grievance group?
  • What are the pillars of support (people, groups, and institutions) that serve to supply those sources of power?
  • To what extent are such pillars of support for the grievance group or the nonviolent struggle group influenced, or actually or potentially controlled by, the nonviolent struggle group, or by the opponent group?
  • Which pillars are suitable for use in resistance activities? Which ones need to be strengthened? Do any new ones need to be created?
  • What other vulnerabilities and weaknesses can be identified? Can any of these be rectified through deliberate efforts?
  • Does the nonviolent struggle group currently exist as a coherent movement or organization? If so, what is its organizational structure (administration, organizational branches, complexity, efficiency, reliability, degree of initiative, degree of centralized controls, etc.)? Does it have capable and competent leadership?
  • What is the strategic skill level of the nonviolent struggle group and its leaders?
  • Who among the nonviolent struggle group has knowledge of the theory, methods, and practical dynamics of nonviolent struggle?
  • Does the grievance group as a whole, parts of that group, or the nonviolent struggle group have prior experience in using nonviolent struggle?
  • What preparations have already been made for the application of nonviolent struggle in this conflict?
  • What means of nonmilitary control, if any, are already wielded by the nonviolent struggle group or its sympathizers (ownership of media, control of private industry, etc.)?
  • What is the information and intelligence capacity of the nonviolent struggle group?
  • What economic resources are at the disposal of the nonviolent struggle group?
  • What are the communications capacities of the resisters?
  • Are the possible concessions beneficial or harmful to the resisters against the oppression?
  • How easy or difficult would it be for the resisters to make concessions to the opponents?

Provide a general assessment of the struggle capacity of both the nonviolent struggle group and the general grievance group based on the above information.

5. Third parties

Assess the potential roles of third parties on behalf of either of the two sides over the course of a conflict. “Third parties” are defined here as any group, institution, or sector, internal or external, that is not initially a direct party to the conflict. Third party roles may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Assisting public relations (for either side)
  • Providing diplomatic assistance or exerting diplomatic pressures (for either side)
  • Supplying financial assistance (for either side)
  • Providing police and military assistance (for the opponent group); (police or military action intended to assist the nonviolent struggle can instead undermine it)
  • Providing educational and technical assistance (for either side)
  • Providing safe areas (usually for the resisters but sometimes for the opponent group)
  • Applying economic pressures (on either side)
  • Providing knowledge about nonviolent struggle (primarily to the resisters)

Assess which third parties could potentially provide such assistance to either side, and determine which groups already serve as pillars of support to one side or the other. Strategists will later need to determine which third parties should be courted for possible future assistance and which groups should be undermined.

6. Dependency balances

Determine which of the two contending sides is dependent on the other, in what ways and to what degree. These calculations should include the following:

  • The degree of dependency of the opponent group on the resisting population and on the wider grievance group for meeting identified needs
  • The degree of dependency of the resisting population and the grievance group on the opponent group for meeting identified needs
  • The degree of actual and potential independence of the opponent group from the resisting population and general grievance group for meeting identified needs
  • The degree of actual and potential independence of the resisting population and grievance group from the opponent group for meeting identified needs
  • Does the dependent side, or do the dependent sides, have, or can they create, alternative goods, services and sources of power to replace those that have been shrunk or severed by noncooperation by the other side?


The main point is to know the strengths and weaknesses of both sides, their sources of power, and the likely impacts of the use of the power of both sides in an open conflict. How do those strengths and weaknesses compare with each other? Also, how might the respective strengths and weaknesses of the two sides be changed?


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