Category Archives: Strategy & Tactics

Egypt: Bits from Behind the Scenes

Two little bits (rumors?) from behind the scenes during Egypt's uprising.

Robert Fisk reported that on January 30th Mubarak ordered the military to attack the demonstrators in Tahrir Square, but the officers refused:

Last night, a military officer guarding the tens of thousands celebrating in Cairo threw down his rifle and joined the demonstrators, yet another sign of the ordinary Egyptian soldier's growing sympathy for the democracy demonstrators. We had witnessed many similar sentiments from the army over the past two weeks. But the critical moment came on the evening of 30 January when, it is now clear, Mubarak ordered the Egyptian Third Army to crush the demonstrators in Tahrir Square with their tanks after flying F-16 fighter bombers at low level over the protesters.

Many of the senior tank commanders could be seen tearing off their headsets – over which they had received the fatal orders – to use their mobile phones. They were, it now transpires, calling their own military families for advice. Fathers who had spent their lives serving the Egyptian army told their sons to disobey, that they must never kill their own people.

Thus when General Hassan al-Rawani told the massive crowds yesterday evening that "everything you want will be realised – all your demands will be met", the people cried back: "The army and the people stand together – the army and the people are united. The army and the people belong to one hand."

While Paul Amar wrote that during the February 4th attacks on democracy demonstrators by pro-Mubarak supporters (likely paid thugs, police in plain clothes, government employees and even convicts freed on the condition that they attack the demonstrators), were not widely prevented by the military because they did not have ammunition:

The army’s role in countering Suleiman’s lust for repression was crucial to saving the momentum of this uprising. On 4 February, the day of the most terrifying police/thug brutality in Tahrir Square, many commentators noted that the military were trying to stop the thug attacks but were not being very forceful or aggressive. Was this a sign that the military really wanted the protesters to be crushed? Since then, we have learned that the military in the square were not provisioned with bullets. The military were trying as best they could to battle the police/thugs, but Suleiman had taken away their bullets for fear the military would side with the protesters and use the ammunition to overthrow him.

That the military was unwilling to attack the demonstrators on January 30th, certainly lends support to the notion that their ammunition was take away from them before February 4th, and highlights the usefulness of nonviolent tactics in undermining the support given to the regime by the military and other groups in and outside of a government.

You say you want a Twitter revolution

With the exciting (largely) nonviolent overthrow of the Tunisian and Egyptian authoritarian governments, there has been talk of the effects of Twitter, Facebook and other social networking tools on these events.  Techdirt points us to the use of Usenet to keep the outside world informed of what was going on in the Soviet Union during the 1991 coup.  It is an interesting, albeit brief read.

Certainly in the Tunisian revolution, Anonymous seems to have had a hand in helping to take down government servers.  Certainly, if they were able to hack the computers and phone system of the presidency and make it difficult communicate with others then that would have contributed to Ben Ali's ouster.  Certainly, the internet can allow local nonviolent activists to work together and abroad to plan their efforts and craft fliers to distribute about goals and tactics.

Different articles have downplayed the effects of the internet and social media on the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and else where, but one of the keys to a successful nonviolent revolution is that large numbers of people must not fear government repression and realize that others do not fear such repression as well.  By increasing communication between people, the internet and social media help that process.  Hopefully these tools will get used to help overthrow authoritarian governments in the Middle East and beyond.

People power in Thailand undermining government support among the Thai army

It appears that the Thai government has offered a reconciliation plan that includes an election on November 14th.  The Guardian says that the Red Shirts have accepted the proposal, while the BBC says that the Red Shirts are willing to talk.

There seems to be a group called the Multi-Colored Shirts who are opposing the Red Shirts, though other sources refer to them as Yellow Shirts, the group that used nonviolence to overthrow the previous government, and wants to limit who can actually be in parliament.

The Red Shirts had fortified their positions in Bangkok and halted army forces from entering Bangkok (New York Times though "thailand protest train" gets 405 hits in

… antigovernment demonstrators in the northeast stopped a train carrying military vehicles, underlining the impunity of the protest movement and the government’s weakening control of the populous hinterland.

While the Guardian wrote that army soldiers may not be reliable:

However, there has been speculation that the army is reluctant to move against the protesters again after a failed attempt to clear them from the streets a week ago. The army chief, Anupong Paochinda, has said an election is the only solution to Thailand's political crisis.

Many soldiers, particularly in the lower ranks, are openly supportive of the red shirts' cause. Protesters have nicknamed them "watermelon soldiers", for their green uniforms on the outside and red sympathies within.

Looks like the Red Shirts are undermining the support of the government.

Nonviolence in Palestine

are a set of recent articles/press releases about some efforts at
nonviolence in Palestine & Israel:

Thailand Red protests heat up

I cannot say that Thailand has been quiet since the last time I posted, but with the recent protests by the Red-shirted demonstrators who are protesting the current government things have moved up in their intensity.  NPR reported 100,000 anti-government non-violent protesters have taken to demonstrating outside of government buildings. 

Recently, many protesters gave a little bit of their blood so that they could pelt government buildings with bags of the blood.  The news reports I have heard indicate that the protesters are sending a message that they are willing to shed blood in violent opposition to the current government. An alternative interpretation could be that they are showing that they are willing to withstand violent attacks by the government nonviolently.  Not being there or knowing Thai, it is hard to discern the truth.

The military at least does not appear to be attempting to escalate their own violence, but is hoping the protesters tire and leave.

Resistance to Chinese Censorship Goes Virtual

Boing Boing reported that an hour long video satire of Chinese government censorship, called War of Internet Addiction, has had 10 million views by Chinese netizens.  It was filmed entirely in World of Warcraft.

You can find commentary at DigiCha and YouKu Buzz

The original video is at the YouKu Buzz link, but the speed is very slow.  You can find an English subtitled version at YouTube in seven installments.

Eight years later, using nonviolence in Afghanistan still looks like a good choice

[Reprinted from my main blog since it is germane to this one.]

In March of 2002, while running for Treasurer of the Commonwealth, I did a one day tour of the Fall River/New Bedford area including speaking engagements, radio appearances and an interview with the Herald News in Fall River.  I was aided by David Dionne, a great and tireless activist for social justice, peace, and the environment.  David had setup the whole day and first on the itinerary was the interview with the Herald News.

Now March, 2002 was about five months after the US invasion of Afghanistan and one of the reporter's first questions was what would be the Green Party's alternative to invading Afghanistan.  I stated that invading the country was the wrong approach and the US would have been better off in the long-term by building a nonviolent resistance movement to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda that sought the development and liberation of all of its citizens.

With President Obama's announcement that he will send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan to join the 68,000 US soldiers, 43,000 NATO-ISAF soldiers, and 68,000 Pentagon contractors, the long-term has arrived.  When all is said and done, we are easily on track to have been there for a decade or more propping up a corrupt government run by warlords who share the Taliban's desire to keep women down. 

According to, a National Priorities Project, the US has spent $232 Billion funding military related operations in Afghanistan since our invasion in 2001.  This figure represents over $8,000 per Afghan citizen, or about $1000 a year for each person.  With Afghanistan's per capita yearly GDP at about $450, this amount would represent a tripling of the income of the average Afghan.  This figure is even more striking when you consider that we haven't delivered on the $5 Billion in aid we pledged to help Afghanistan rebuild.

We could have devoted a fraction of what our military has spent occupying Afghanistan on promoting economic development, education and health as well as building a native Afghan nonviolent resistance movement.  Would we have overthrown the Taliban by now?  Possibly.  People who have enough to eat, a job with a decent income and the ability to read have much more ability to organize and use nonviolent tactics to undermine the support of their leaders.  We forget when we judge the success of a nonviolent resistance that, after eight years of violent resistance to the Taliban, there is very real prospect that they may yet reestablish themselves as the rulers of Afghanistan.

By taking a long-term nonviolent approach, one that focused on economic development, education and improving the health of all Afghans, we would have left Afghanistan a far better place than we have so far.  Even if a nonviolent resistance movement had not succeed by now, it would have a good chance of succeeding in the future.  Obama's choice to double down on the Bush strategy doesn't look like its chance of success will be any better, but the cost in lives and debt will be immensely higher.

Using nonviolent direct action to stop investor shakedowns of entrepreneurs

Jason Calacanis is all a twitter about investors charging startups to pitch their ideas to them and calls on such investor groups to stop.  If they don't, he is willing to use nonviolent direct action tactics to get them to stop:

"However, if this is not done immediately, my group of startup CEOs and
angel investors will begin targeting specific groups for elimination. 
We will launch competing, fee-free events directly opposite your
events. We will encourage angels investors, service providers and
startups to boycott your events. You may even find our street teams
outside your events handing out flyers."

While I have my suspicions about the investor class in general, it is good to see more groups using nonviolent direct action.

Thanks to Shawn Broderick, who has also railed against such investor shakedowns, for pointing out the above article.

Escalating the level of nonviolence

My son recently engaged in nonviolent direct action when he took over the bathroom after he was denied dessert.  I decided to escalate the level of nonviolence by threatening to deal with one's personal needs in his room.  He relented and I ended up reading him Saul Alinsky's retelling of the threatened O'Hare Airport Poop-in .  We both laughed very hard and a lesson was learned, hopefully.