Violence in the Arab Spring: A Look at Revolutions and Peace

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I’m teaching a class tomorrow night at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU – a course called Structures of Peace – and we’re going to talk about revolution and protest from a peacebuilding perspective.

The preeminent measurement of peace in the world’s countries – the Global Peace Index – accounts for revolution in a way that worsens a country’s peacefulness score. And indeed, all successful protests are disruptive (that’s the point), and many revolutions are bloody. But if we see peace from the perspective of everyone having their needs met without systemic deprivation (i.e., positive peace), there’s no doubt that some revolutions need to happen. In addition, not all revolutions happen the same way – statistically, nonviolent civil resistance is twice as effective as violent civil resistance.

Regardless of whether demonstrators choose violent or nonviolent tactics, demonstrations can result in violence in the streets. This is likely why the GPI dings a country’s score. But when it comes to measuring and understanding peacefulness, that may or may not help us. Take a look at some of the data below.

Likelihood of Violent Demonstrations, Select Arab Spring Countries 2008-2013
Likelihood of Violent Demonstrations

Is this how you remember the Arab Spring+2? Likelihood of violence in the streets similar in Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria? Agree or disagree in the comments. And what do you think this means for peace in these countries? Did/do Tunisians, Egyptians, and Syrians have peace under Ben Ali, Mubarak, and Assad? They may have had a measure of pre-protest stability, but if peace includes freedom and human rights, it would be hard to answer yes.

Data source: Institute for Economics and Peace. Note that this indicator from the GPI is qualitatively scored by the Economist Intelligence Unit. Scores range from 1 (most peaceful/least likely) to 5 (least peaceful/most likely) and scores released in each year’s index reflect an analysis from the year prior.

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