Why does a revolution succeed or fail?

Characteristics of successful revolutions are the vulnerability of the state and security forces versus the organization strength of the opposition based in political parties, social movements, labor organizations and religious groups. When the military withholds support, the government can collapse as in Tunisia and Egypt. Non-violent uprisings are more likely to succeed using tactics spelled out by Gene Sharp. Violent opposition only took place in Libya and Syria, resulting in chaos and bloodshed. Support from outside forces can help, such as an example of success as in Tunisia and Western aid and arms conditional on some semblance of “façade democracy.” In Egypt’s case, the Mubarak regime’s ties with the US neoliberalism and Israel were unpopular adding to desire to oust him. Social media brings in outside support; three-quarters of the social media traffic during Egypt’s uprising were from outside the region leading some to call ICT a new type of politics. Some say it began with the Orange revolution in Ukraine in 2004 and its use of cell phones and others with the Zapatistas cultivating of Internet support. Current uprisings are faulted for lack of a plan for the future and placing too much importance on social media communication.

The Arab Spring uprisings resulted in four outcomes: success (Tunisia), despot removed but not replaced with democracy (Egypt, Yemen), civil war (Syria, Libya), and the government stayed in power and repressed protests (Bahrain, Morocco and two-thirds of the region’s autocrats so that soldiers prevailed.


George Lawson, “Revolution, Non-Violence, and the Arab Spring. IDEAS reports, 2012.



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