Nonviolent Resistance in North Africa and the Middle East

Nonviolent Resistance in North Africa and the Middle East

1.     Algeria: Nonviolent Resistance Against French Colonialism, 1830s-1950s — Malika Rahal
2.     Egypt: Nonviolent Resistance in the Rise of a Nation-State, 1805-1922 — Amr Abdalla and Yasmine Arafa
3.     Iran: Nonviolent Revolts, 1890-1906 — Nikki R. Keddie
4.     Palestine: Nonviolent Resistance in the Struggle for Statehood, 1920s-2012 — Mary Elizabeth King

1. Algeria: Nonviolent Resistance Against French Colonialism, 1830s-1950s — Malika Rahal

Algeria's independence struggle is commonly remembered for its bloody war and internationally for the images immortalized in Pontecorvo's Battle of Algiers. However, during more than a century as a French colony, Algerians survived and resisted through a wide variety of nonviolent means, as well as the more famous episodes of armed resistance. Mass emigration was a non-confrontational form of defiance as groups physically removed themselves from French rule.  "Mute resistance" to France's "civilizing mission" took the form of refusing to go to French schools or hospitals.  Women, viewed as a repository of cultural identity, upheld alternatives to "Frenchification." The twentieth century brought new movements, a proliferation of associations and newspapers demanding full citizenship rights, and the organization of alternative institutions ranging from schools to political parties.  These activities carried with it the power of nonviolent action, but divisions within the movement and the memory of the horrific massacres of May 1945—ironically triggered by celebrations of the end of the Second World War—undermined a potentially forceful nonviolent strategy. Still, the history, role and impact of nonviolent actions in the Algerian anti-colonial struggle should neither be ignored nor underestimated.

2. Egypt: Nonviolent Resistance in the Rise of a Nation-State, 1805-1922 — Amr Abdalla and Yasmine Arafa

This chapter traces significant episodes of Egypt’s nonviolent struggle from the beginning of the nineteenth century until the 1919 revolution, which culminated in Egypt’s formal independence from Britain in 1922. While not claiming that Egyptians owe their independence, statehood or construction of their national identity solely to nonviolent struggle, this chapter shows how nonviolent actions enabled ordinary Egyptians to exert greater influence on matters of national sovereignty reserved for centuries to military, political and foreign elites. The participation of Egyptians in nonviolent mass movements gradually shaped their national identity, and contributed to Egypt’s independence and to the formation of a modern nation-state. 

3. Iran: Nonviolent Revolts, 1890-1906 — Nikki R. Keddie

Nonviolent resistance was an integral part of Iran's historical struggles against foreign domination and the authoritarian rulers that often benefited from and acquiesced to that domination. This chapter uncovers important civil resistance campaigns that influenced the trajectory and outcome of two important Iranian liberation movements on the eve of the 20th century: the 1891-92 anti-tobacco campaign and the 1905-11 constitutional revolution. Despite valorized political violence in the Iranian historical and contemporary narratives—often written, perpetrated and perpetuated by men—the impact of the early nonviolent resistance campaigns should not be underestimated.  They played an important role in building broad, cross-ethnic coalitions of professional, intellectual and religious groups, and were often joined by women, and they created a template of nonviolent actions that was drawn upon in subsequent decades and influenced Iranian national identification.

4. Palestine: Nonviolent Resistance in the Struggle for Statehood, 1920s-2012 — Mary Elizabeth King

Palestinian civil resistance has significantly created a foundation for Palestinian democracy and statehood. A series of British colonial interventions in Palestine around World War I produced an acute, pernicious conflict. The most defining imperial intrusion was the November 2, 1917, letter of Lord Balfour, British foreign secretary, supporting a Jewish national home in Palestine. The idea appealed to Western Christendom, but ignored the indigenous Arab populace. During the 1920s and 1930s, to oppose the consequences of the Balfour declaration, Palestinian Arabs used nonviolent methods of protest and persuasion, plus noncooperation methods, with social, economic, and electoral boycotts; frequent strikes; and resignation from jobs. A pattern developed that persists to this day, in which nonviolent challenges by Palestinian Arabs met with no constructive or positive responses from the British administrators prior to the 1948 war, or from the Zionists before and after the establishment of the state of Israel. This lack of receptivity had the effect of invigorating the elements that were advocating violent resistance, including the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), whose armed resistance and terror operations were often directed against civilians. In June 1967, Israel militarily conquered East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip—the remaining quarter of the land the UN had allocated Palestinians in 1947, and placed the West Bank and Gaza under occupation. During the 1970s and 1980s, inside the occupied territories, an incipient nonviolent mass movement cohered, its target the ending of Israeli occupation. It resulted from a decades-long spread of knowledge about nonviolent strategies throughout Palestinian society and the growth of nonmilitary civil-society organizational capacity. Called intifada (“shaking off”) when it started in 1987, for nearly three years the uprising sought with nonviolent means the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, with implied acceptance of the latter’s permanence. While the 1987 intifada did not achieve its goal of establishing an independent Palestinian state, its multiyear process of building nonmilitary political capability did more to coin a model of authentic democratic governance in the Arab world than the often-valorized armed struggle. In the twenty-first century, small nonviolent Palestinian movements supported by Israeli allies continue nonviolent campaigns to challenge Israel’s Gaza blockade and minimize the destructiveness of the separation barrier being erected by Israel among Palestinian communities.