Individuals and organizations facing restrictive, oppressive and/or authoritarian forms of governance may be able to employ hundreds of nonviolent methods to amplify their voices, challenge power dynamics and press for reform. Tactics include protests, boycotts, sit-ins, civil disobedience and alternative institutions. Nonviolent resistance has been shown empirically to be twice as effective as armed struggle in achieving major political goals. The U.S. Institute of Peace promotes nonviolent approaches through education and training in strategic nonviolent action and movement-building; applied research on such movements and the efficacy of outside support; and publications that inform the work of policymakers to advance alternatives to violence.
The ouster of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011 was brought about using the tools of nonviolent action, including massive protests and nationwide strikes. Yet the transition that followed showed that initiating change through nonviolent action is no guarantee of a peaceful, smooth path to democracy. This report, based on data on 72 political transitions that occurred between 1945 and 2019, provides key insights into the kinds of mobilization, in terms of tactics and actors, that tend to be most effective in carrying transitions to a democratic outcome.
The surprise announcement by Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the leader of Sudan’s coup government, that the military is willing to hand power back to civilians presents an opportunity to get the democratic transition back on track.
From 2013 to 2018, Sudanese civil society actors carved out a variety of civic spaces that laid the foundation for Sudan’s 2018–2019 December Revolution. This report assesses the factors that gave rise to this remarkable mobilization—in particular how civil society development ultimately enabled the Sudanese opposition to sustain a decentralized, nationwide, and robust nonviolent campaign characterized by widespread mass participation, unity of leadership and purpose, and a commitment to nonviolent discipline—and what it will take to keep the country’s democratic transition on track.
In support of the Evidence Act and as part of the U.S. national security architecture, USIP is carrying out its own learning agenda. Peacebuilding has long been viewed as too messy and complex for evidence-based approaches — but USIP’s mix of research and practice belies that assumption.
Since January 2021, USIP has been collecting data on the frequency and characteristics of civic mobilization in 83 political transitions initiated through civil resistance from 1945 to the present to help understand when challenges to democratic progress have been successfully overcome and provide practical lessons learned for activists, policymakers and academics interested in nonviolent action and democratization.
Since 2020, USIP’s programs on religion and inclusive societies and nonviolent action have been conducting research to better understand the role of religion in nonviolent action campaigns. Many of the most prominent activists and nonviolent movements in history have drawn on religion as they worked to build peace and advance justice. Historical figures such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi often come to mind. But religious leaders, beliefs, symbols and practices have featured just as prominently in more recent nonviolent campaigns, including the Arab Uprisings, the Spring Revolution in Myanmar and Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement.