by Maciej Bartkowski, April 6, 2015. Published by The World Post.

As the bombing campaign of Houthi positions in Yemen continued and Saudi Arabia and Egypt threatened ground invasion, the men and women of Taizz, Yemen’s third largest city, came out in thousands last week to protest the Houthi’s take over of their city. The Taizz residents used the most effective weapon they had, but which the international community often ignores: collective, mostly peaceful, resistance.

Peaceful resistance was the same tool that millions of Yemenis wielded so resiliently in 2011, eventually forcing President Ali Abdullah Saleh to resign later that year. It was around that time nonviolent movements of the Arab spring raised high hopes for democracy in the region. Yet, four years later, with resurgent authoritarianism in Egypt and Bahrain, and raging civil wars in Syria–and now Yemen–skepticism about their power is widespread.

Recent challenges aside, historical data backs up the longstanding success of nonviolent movements and cautions us against dismissing them too quickly. Longitudinal studies of nonviolently rebellious societies over more than 100 years show not just the power of nonviolent movements to take on brutal regimes and defeat them. They also demonstrate their unmistakable positive impact on democratization.

Fifty-three percent of nonviolent movements have sealed the fate of seemingly irremovable dictators. At the same time, armed struggles, often seen as the only way to force brutal adversaries to concede, were twice less effective. Violent outside interventions fared even worse, extending the duration of civil wars and increasing the number of civilians killed.

The long-term impact of nonviolent movements is impressive. The probability for countries to become democracies 5 years after a major political breakthrough is estimated to be tenfold higher if driven by nonviolent movements than by arms. Socially diverse movements that forced power holders to negotiate or agree to hold elections paved the way for successful democratization in 65 percent of cases of political transitions. In contrast, elite-driven and violent transitions (e.g. via civil war or external armed intervention) were 5 to 10 times more likely to result in reemergence of authoritarianism than nonviolent revolutions. Hence Tunisia has had much higher probability of becoming a democracy than, for example, Libya.

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