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Is Gene Sharp Superman?

Posted in Egypt, Non-Violent Direct Action by gowans on February 16, 2011
By Stephen Gowans

Samuel P. Jacobs' Valentine's Day article in The Daily Beast has a catchy title: "Gene Sharp, the 83 year old who toppled Egypt." Sharp is a scholar who has spent much of his life developing ideas on how to overthrow authoritarian governments using nonviolence.

While Jacobs' title is eye-catching, it's also nonsense. Attributing the toppling of Mubarak to Sharp is like attributing the toppling of the Tsar to Karl Marx. Sure, their ideas may have inspired some of the people who sought the downfall of tyrants, but the connection stops there.

Did an octagenarian nonviolence scholar remotely mobilize millions of Egyptians to bring down Mubarak? If he did we've been misled about Clark Kent. He isn't Superman. Gene Sharp is.
A more realistic description of the nonviolence advocate is provided in the headline of a September 13, 2008 Wall Street Journal article: "Quiet Boston Scholar Inspires Rebels Around the World." But even this goes too far. Sharp's techniques of nonviolent direct action may inspire rebels to choose nonviolence, but not to rebel.

The confusion around Sharp is a confusion of means and ends. Sharp and the scholars who work to develop and disseminate his ideas are concerned with means: How to challenge and seize state power. True, the Boston scholar and many other nonviolence advocates appear to embrace liberal democracy as their ideal system, but their work isn't about singing the praises of regular multi-party elections, the rule of law, and civil and political liberties. Instead, it's about how to move challenges to the state off a playing field the state has an enormous advantage on: the use of violence.

True, too, the advocates of Sharp's ideas--and Sharp himself-are often involved in imparting the scholar's techniques to rebels who are working to bring down governments Washington opposes. And the same rebels often receive generous aid from the US government to facilitate the application of Sharp's techniques. Still, his ideas are as accessible to Marxists and anarchists looking to overthrow capitalist governments as they are to US-backed street rebels.

Whether Sharp's ideas played a decisive role in the Tahrir Square uprising, however, is an open question. These days it's practically impossible for anyone who is seriously interested in challenging the state not to have at least a passing acquaintance with Sharp's work. It's just out there. If some people who were active in trying to organize the uprising were Sharp-literate, we shouldn't be greatly surprised. But what role did they play in shaping the uprising's actions?

Protestors did not hew strictly to the nonviolent line (they battled violently with police and Mubarak's thugs when attacked) and the otherwise peaceful nature of the uprising may have had little to do with any conscious commitment to model tactics on Sharp's advice and more with self-survival. After all, who's going to storm parliament or the president's office with the army deployed nearby?


by stevesim on Tue Feb 22nd, 2011 at 02:41:31 PM EST
your idolization of Gene Sharp is quite misplaced, I am afraid to say.
by stevesim on Tue Feb 22nd, 2011 at 02:42:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
is frankly embarassing. Ciao.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Tue Feb 22nd, 2011 at 03:02:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... considered good form to enclose quotes in blockquote tags.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Feb 22nd, 2011 at 02:46:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Wondering how is ideas are being covered in Egypt itself, I went to news.google.com.eg, typed in "جين شارب" (which I hope means Gene Sharp) and looked at the first few hits. One, which seemed to be from Iran, defeated my attempts to decipher Google's idea of English. Otherwise, all I found was one local attack on him, several quotes from the NYT, and a translation of an article from Yediot. So based on this small sample, I don't think we need worry about Egyptians falling for this story. If anybody has the patience to look further, at least you know know where to look.
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Tue Feb 22nd, 2011 at 02:55:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I wish I could say the same about the people here.  They seem to have swallowed the story hook, line and sinker.

The CIA sometimes does good work, it seems.

by stevesim on Tue Feb 22nd, 2011 at 03:24:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
[ET Moderation Technology™]

That is now enough of serious insults towards members here. No one has swallowed anything hook, line, and sinker, and the notion that the CIA has managed to persuade anyone here of anything is as insulting as it is risible.

Tone the ad hominems down.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Feb 22nd, 2011 at 03:34:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I wonder why the ad hominems against me are allowed?

Is there a double standard here?

I only repeat the things that people say against me and yet I am troll rated.  Why is that?

by stevesim on Tue Feb 22nd, 2011 at 03:42:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
[ET Moderation Technology™]

Don't argue.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Feb 22nd, 2011 at 03:48:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I can comment from the distance of not having participated in this discussion, not analyzing various components of a long thread.

Your tone and manner puts me off. There is both a sensibility and a method of discussion here, which of course, one gets over time; can't be expected to absorb all at once.

We've probably all crossed the line on occasion, but here you keep it up, and ignore suggestions.

One sign humans might progress is that they recognize that others may hold divergent views without being CIA stooges.

Please don't upset your case officer.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin

by Crazy Horse on Tue Feb 22nd, 2011 at 03:52:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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