Imagine living a life where your political freedoms and liberties are restricted. You are not allowed to express your views freely. In case you speak against the leader and his views, you are putting your existence at risk. For most of us living in democracies, these thoughts might seem to be straight out of a book or a movie. But these are facts of living reality for 3.3 billion people living under various authoritarian regimes. Even in existing democracies, there is a trend of increased restrictions on the freedom and liberty of people. Human rights violations need not just be acts of physical harm or torture as we imagine. It can be the subtle denial of the rights that individuals are entitled to. How do we deal with these dictators? How can they be overthrown?
Many nations in the past have adopted violent rebellions as a means to overthrow the dictator. The Arab Springs is one of the most recent examples. But unlike the overthrow of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989, these protests were violent and rather inconclusive. With an exception of Tunisia, in other nations such as Egypt, Syria and Libya the situation has become rather worse. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood which came to power was overthrown by the military and police forces later. Syria and Libya saw the growth of the Islamic State and these nations are war-torn and under a state of humanitarian crisis. The problem in these cases is the existence of contradictory ideals and values of secularism and Islam.
These contradictions have led to the emergence of one of the most violent political and religious movements of the contemporary times. Overthrowing a dictator requires an understanding of how dictators derive their power. There are two important sources that they derive their power and authority from i.e. the use of force and installation of the fear of a threat. Most dictators make up possible threats to the nation and portray themselves as the one who is capable of protecting the nation from the threat. This threat is also used as a scapegoat for all the problems faced by the nation. The second element that they use is violence. They use force to suppress dissent and in that process also label the opposition as members of the enemy to retain their status quo.
Therefore, it is important for the people to realize the ideologies behind the propaganda of the dictator. An interesting way to challenge dictatorships was given by Srdja Popovic and Slobodan Djinovic who played an instrumental role in the toppling of Slobodan Milosevic in 2000 in Serbia. They put forward a model of non-violent protests and have successfully applied their ideas in Ukraine and Georgia. Their book ‘Blueprint for Revolution’ has been a blueprint indeed. It was used to topple Mubarak in Egypt, in the revolution in Lebanon and to overthrow the autocrat in Maldives. They believe that the potential of non-violence is underestimated and it is a proven method for overthrowing dictators.
The rationale behind this idea was that violence is the specialty of the dictators which the people cannot use to beat them. There is a general perception that non-violence cannot work against the brutality of dictators. But the truth is non-violence is the most effective against them. For example, László Tökés, a parish priest in Romania used non-violence as a form of resistance to bring down the dictator Ceausescu. His opposition brought him to the attention of Ceausescu’s secret police but hundreds of people gathered around his property to protect him from eviction. This spurred a revolution which eventually led to the downfall of Ceausescu. The recent years have not been very eventful for dictators but it has not been so for democracy as well.
All that we can look forward to is to inspire people in these regimes to act and break free from all that they are forced to believe. They should stand up for their rights. Also, the people living in democracies should be encouraged to uphold the democratic values that may have been misused. The experience from history shows that violent protests do not always result in an actual change from dictatorship to democracy. However, non-violence can be a path ahead to inspire and ignite change.
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