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The Monitor's View

Syria protests must stick to nonviolence

Saudi Arabia may be arming Syrian protesters as more of them turn to violence against Assad's brutality. They must not lose the moral force of peaceful tactics used in Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen.

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The world has so far admired the discipline of Syria’s peaceful protesters who daily risk their lives, standing up to the regime’s bullets. More than 7,000 have been killed, a staggering slaughter on par with the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia.

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Less visible has been an underground nonviolent group in Damascus and other cities that uses pranks to win support. The “Freedom Days” movement has led general strikes, but it is best known for public antics, such as asking people to wear white T-shirts on particular days or sending donkeys into the streets with “Bashar al-Assad” written on their sides.

The group also has released helium balloons with “freedom” written on them. When soldiers shoot them down, colorful confetti with “freedom” written on bits of paper floats down. In January, the group organized a protest over shortages in which people banged on their empty fuel tanks.

Such tactics are part of a long history of nonviolence used to bring about freedom, from India to the civil rights movement in America to the Philippines to Serbia. Street protests are just one tactic, and perhaps the riskiest. A study of 323 liberation movements in a recent book, “Why Civil Resistance Works,” found that more than half of nonviolent campaigns have succeeded. Violent struggles were half as successful.

In coming days, the United States plans to introduce a resolution at the United Nations Security Council demanding access for humanitarian workers to reach the besieged cities in Syria. If the protesters can stick to the principles of nonviolence, then China and perhaps even Russia might come under greater moral pressure not to veto the measure.

If Mr. Assad loses the support of those countries, he would be even more isolated. And the model of peaceful protest for the Arab Spring might live on.


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