Arab revolutions: On non-violence and disappointment

Arab revolutions: On non-violence and disappointment
4 min read
15 Feb, 2015
Comment: Despite the many setbacks to the Arab Spring, people must pursue a peaceful path to change if they want to secure a better future for the region.
Yemenis mark the fourth anniversary of the February 2011 revolution [Anadolu]
The Arab Spring revolutions erupted four years ago to usher in a new dawn of freedom in a region that had been reeling under oppressive regimes for decades.

The world remembers the masses that filled public squares and streets in Arab Spring countries with great admiration and respect. It remembers the crowds that peacefully demanded change and swelled with happiness and hope.
     Non-violence and civil resistance leads to democracy and the rule of law.

The rhetoric of violence decreased at the time. Groups that adopted violence or terrorism as part of their charters looked increasingly unable to defend their position. It could be argued that the Arab Spring revolutions brought about a resurgence of peaceful civil resistance in the region.

In Yemen, the revolt against then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime was as important for the means deployed as its occurrence. The decision to remain peaceful despite the regime's attempts to drag it into violence was crucial. It would have been easy for Saleh not to step down if the country had been buffetted by violence and counter-violence.

The peaceful nature of the February revolution also exposed the lies and fabrications of Saleh's regime. These had painted a distorted picture of Yemeni society to the world to justify avoiding political reform. Yemenis were the only citizens in the world whose government had all but accused them collectively of being terrorists.

Yemenis actively took part in the project for peaceful change and all the attempts to militarise the revolution and turn it into a tribal or regional conflict failed. Everyone took part in trying to build a new country based on equal rights, the rule of law and political participation. It was in this context, and for this purpose, that a conference of national dialogue that included all the political and regional forces was held.

The moment didn't last however. The peaceful revolution ended up hijacked by militias that adopted violence to pursue their narrow interests. Today, we have armed groups fighting amongst themselves to control the fate of all Yemenis, taking advantage of a deterioration in state institutions to impose their beliefs.


The Houthi movement is adamant about portraying its armed invasion of Sanaa as a revolution. But it is just an attempt to impose its will through force. There is no doubt that al-Qaeda, which has no support in Yemeni society at large, will work hard to use the Houthi military expansion to its own benefit, challenging Houthi dominance in order to gain popularity.

The irony is the Houthis could be an immensely popular political forc. However, they declared war on state and society and it has caused a national moral backlash. Additionally, their use of force has pushed Yemenis to abandon the political process and respond to various calls for violence. This is a situation that Yemenis who aspire to a normal and stable life do not deserve.
     When violence reigns, there are no longer any citizens - only killers and the dead.

Many have criticised the Arab Spring for adopting peaceful and reconciliatory means. Some suggest these are signs of weakness. Other contend such measures simply won't work; they will only allow the old order to return to power or extremist forces to seize it.

These critics ignore the fact that adopting peaceful means and seeking reconciliation was the only way to break with a past that was based ona philosophy of vengeance, nepotism and violence, to build a future that opposes these principles. Non-violence and civil resistance leads to democracy and the rule of law. Violence usually only leads to more violence.


Where peaceful resistance succeeds, it increases people's confidence to build and develop. When violence reigns, whether for government or opposition forces, there are no longer any citizens - only killers and the dead.

We must not give in to despair and abandon peaceful resistance no matter the sacrifice. The price we will pay for non-violence will be much less than the price we will have to pay if we decide to travel the road of violence.

Let us always remember that there are many more choices to make and tools to use if we decide to pursue non-violence rather than violence. A message on social media can strike fear into governments and regimes that until only recently thought the virtual world could never affect the material one.

Arab and Yemeni youth, who are the true heroes of the moment, should continue on the path of peaceful change. They should remember the revolutionary spirit runs strong and no one can accept the monopolisation of power, especially now: people are more aware, have better and more constructive visions of the future, and are more able to use technology to communicate with the outside world.

There are many obstacles. But a peaceful struggle is more faithful to the martyrs that have already fallen. It offers a more assured vision of the future.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.