One of the mistakes people make about nonviolent conflict is confusing it with passive resistance. Where the latter is an approach to life that shuns the use of force in any form, the former attempts to win a conflict by applying pressure without the use of direct overt violence. In other words, the use of cohesion—attempting to get someone to do something they do not want to—is intrinsic to the idea of nonviolent conflict.
With dictators and oppressive governments around the world now fully aware of the power their populations have over their regime’s ability to function, efforts are being made to make nonviolent actions in those countries illegal. In other words, any resistance, violent or not, is being made punishable under the law.
This shift from differentiating under the law between violent and nonviolent acts to including all actions against the government under a broad definition of force, will further limit the people’s ability to generate the massive support across all sectors of the country that a nonviolent campaign needs to succeed.
While I have not had a chance to read the new anti-terrorism laws enacted in Egypt, from the reports it appears to be worded in a way where all resistance against the government, violent or not, has been made illegal under the definition of force.
In other words, coercion is being correctly understood as a type of force that can be used to resist government oppression, and it is now illegal. And when broadly worded, the idea of force can be applied to any of the hundreds of nonviolent tactics used to overthrow a regime, from simply slowing down at one’s government job to standing on the front lines of a nonviolent demonstration facing off against the police.
In Egypt’s case this seals the fate for the people in the foreseeable future. With the United States and the countries surrounding Egypt supporting that regime there is no outside third party in the world with enough influence to sanction them for their actions. And now by changing the structure of the country’s laws the Egyptian people have no legal protection inside the country to protest or in any way attempt to hinder the functioning of the government.
This is a good example of why the fight against oppression needs to shift from the national to the global level. The only entity powerful enough now to help the Egyptian people is humanity, but we have yet to mold ourselves into a collective that we can manage for constructive purposes.
Until we, the informed people of the world, come together to create a global politic based on our highest cross cultural values we will continue to suffer from the oppression of a few people bent on furthering their own interests regardless of the cost to humanity, the planet, or our future generations.