The Limits of People Power

Tom Friedman observes that in Berlin these days, “There is now a Dunkin’ Donuts on Paris Square adjacent to the Brandenburg Gate, where all that people power was concentrated.” Conversely:

The problem we have in dealing with the Arab-Muslim world today is the general absence or weakness of people power there. There is a low-grade civil war going on inside the Arab-Muslim world today, only in too many cases it is “the South versus the South” — bad ideas versus bad ideas, amplified by violence, rather than bad ideas versus good ideas amplified by people power.


There’s something to that. At the same time, it’s worth recalling that people power requires tremendous bravery precisely because there are no guarantees. In nonviolent resistance you get a mass of people together out in the streets and you basically have them dare the regime’s security services to massacre unarmed people. It’s oftentimes an effective tactic. But it doesn’t always work. It didn’t work in China in 1989 and it didn’t work in Iran in 2009. And whether it works or not doesn’t just depend on the quantity of people power out and about. Sometimes security forces shoot protesters, sometimes tanks run over unarmed people.