Significant dialogue and negotiation processes have taken place in almost all democratic transitions, but these processes alone do not have a significant impact on future democracy. This report presents statistical analysis of all political transitions after nonviolent action campaigns and case studies of transitions in Egypt, Tunisia, and Ukraine to show the importance of inclusion—and in particular the participation of women—to ensure both successful dialogue and that the outcome of that dialogue is a stable democracy.

A former Islamist activist tortured under Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s government listens to other victims at the Truth and Dignity Commission, in Tunis, Tunisia on December 16, 2016. (Tara Todras-Whitehill/New York Times)
A former Islamist activist tortured under Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s government listens to other victims at the Truth and Dignity Commission, in Tunis, Tunisia on December 16, 2016. (Tara Todras-Whitehill/New York Times)

Summary

Nonviolent action is a potent tool for peaceful political transformation. Transitions initiated through nonviolent action are roughly three times as likely to end in democracy as other forms of transition. Yet many transitions initiated through nonviolent action fail to achieve democratization, a puzzling outcome for which few explanations are satisfying. One factor is the dialogue and negotiation processes that set up post-transition political institutions. Existing literature on dialogue in the context of armed conflict suggests that the level of inclusivenessin dialogue and negotiation processes will likely affect whether transitions end in democracy.

This report presents statistical analysis of 119 dialogue and negotiation processes (DNPs) in transitions initiated through nonviolent action, systematically mapping their levels of inclusiveness along several relevant dimensions, including the participation of women, presence of civil society actors at the negotiating table, and decision-making mechanisms. Inclusion built not just on participation at the negotiation table but also on the presence of mechanisms to make that participation meaningful through equitable selection, a broad mandate, and a relatively even balance of power between old elites and new forces has a significant positive impact on future democracy. Women’s participation at the negotiation table appears to have a particularly strong impact on democratization.

The importance of broad, comprehensive inclusion is reinforced by the findings from three in-depth case studies: the 2011 uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia and the 2014 Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine. While nonviolent action helped ensure more inclusive processes, grassroots actors struggled to make their voices heard even after playing a crucial role in bringing about transitional dialogue. The findings lead to several recommendations for ensuring that inclusion in transitional DNPs encourages democratization. Inclusion that merely puts grassroots actors at the negotiation table is unlikely to resolve underlying grievances and promote democracy unless combined with selection mechanisms, rules of procedure, and a balance of power at the table.

About the Report

This report examines how inclusive dialogue and negotiation processes can help facilitate peaceful democratic transitions after nonviolent action campaigns. The findings are based on a statistical study of all political transitions after nonviolent action campaigns and three in-depth case studies of transitions in Egypt, Tunisia, and Ukraine. The project was funded by the Nonviolent Action and Inclusive Peace Processes programs at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP).

About the Authors

Véronique Dudouet is a senior adviser at the Berghof Foundation, where she manages research projects on peacebuilding, third-party intervention, and civil resistance. Jonathan Pinckney is a senior researcher for USIP and the author of From Dissent to Democracy: The Promise and Peril of Civil Resistance Transitions (2020). 

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