Civil resistance is one of the most powerful forces for moving countries from dictatorship to democracy. Yet many civil resistance campaigns, even when they achieve a breakthrough against their authoritarian opponents, fail to result in high-quality new democratic regimes. I argue that one key factor influencing this is the mechanism through which civil resistance campaigns achieve this breakthrough.
Winning a civil resistance campaign via an election or negotiation tends to promote democratization, while extra-institutional seizures of power, even when primarily nonviolent, tend to make democratization less likely.
Crossnational statistical evidence from all successful civil resistance campaigns from 1945-2011 and two key case studies from Egypt and Armenia provide strong supportive evidence of the importance of breakthrough mechanisms and the democratizing impact of elections and negotiations. To promote democracy, civil resistance typically must not just win, it must win well.
About the Report
The report’s key argument is that the type of breakthrough critically shapes the political transition that follows it, pushing the transition in either a democratic or undemocratic direction.
This occurs because the breakthrough types differ along three key dimensions:
- the relative power balance between the incumbent regime and opposition actors;
- the type of actor which takes initiative at the beginning of the transition (as well as the type of initiative the actor takes); and
- the degree of institutionalization of the transition process.
The movements leading to democracy are those that begin with breakthroughs characterized by a power balance favorable to a nonviolent challenger, an opposition-driven initiative, and institutional channels.
Negotiations and elections are the breakthroughs that best approximate these three characteristics and thus are expected to lead to more democratic outcomes.
This special report addresses the crucial time after a civil resistance movement has achieved a political breakthrough against a dictator.
The key questions it looks to answer are:
- What are the ways in which civil resistance movements achieve political breakthroughs to oust entrenched dictators?
- Which civil resistance-initiated breakthroughs tend to put countries on a pathway to democracy?
- What can external actors do to help movements increase their chances for more successful democratic breakthrough and transition?
- How Nonviolent Uprisings Succeed
- The Effects of the Breakthrough Types
- Testing the Influence of Civil Resistance-Initiated Breakthroughs on Democratization
- Breakthrough by Elections in the 2018 Armenian Velvet Revolution
- Breakthrough by Coup d’État in the 2011 Egyptian Revolution
- Takeaways and Recommendations
- Coding Rules for Determining Breakthrough Type
- Example Breakthrough Type Coding Determinations
- TABLE A1: Complete List of Cases with Breakthrough Types
- TABLE A2: Full OLS Model Regression Table and Robustness Check Results
- About the Author
About the Author
- International Center on Nonviolent Conflict ICNC – Resource Library
- Civil Resistance Tactics in the 21st Century
- The Path of Most Resistance: A Step-by-Step Guide to Planning Nonviolent Campaigns
- Civil resistance
- Direct action
- Direct action - Non violent NVDA