Nonviolence - behind the headlines

Dear WRI supporter,

As authoritarian rulers are finally toppled after decades in power, we have all been reminded of the power a united population can wield through nonviolent action. And again we have seen that the cynical support for dictatorship in the name of stability is a recipe for repression and injustice.

At the same time, there are two grave challenges arising from the events in North Africa and the Middle East for those of us who advocate nonviolent action and campaign against government policies that pursue unprincipled alliances of convenience and arms trading.

Most obvious is the challenge of Libya, where what began as an overdue citizens' movement against an authoritarian regime, has become a civil war. Now the international bombing campaign, in the name of "protecting the people", is in fact taking Libya's future even further out of the hands of its own citizens. At best, the result will be some sort of internationally managed transition to something slightly more democratic. At worst, protracted armed conflict and the emergence of new military domination.

We in WRI are honest with ourselves and recognise that there is little we can do to change the course of events in Libya. Yet still this is a time for denunciation of the cynicism and manipulative approach to international politics that has brought one more country to this situation. Therefore WRI issued a short statement on international military intervention in Libya.

Maikel Nabil Sanad during the revolution, demanding an end to military rule.Maikel Nabil Sanad during the revolution, demanding an end to military rule.The other challenge is less obvious – of how to continue nonviolent struggle after unseating a dictator so that the people can shape their own future. Since last year, WRI has been in contact with Egyptian anti-militarists who began a new movement against conscription. They played their part in the downfall of Mubarak, but now in this transition are among the first to be repressed. On 10 April, Maikel Nabil Sanad – a conscientious objector – was sentenced to three years' imprisonment for "insulting the military" in his blog by warning about the new abuses of power by sections of the army.

Andreas Speck from WRI's "Right to Refuse to Kill Programme" went to Cairo to attend Maikel's trial in a military court. He made contact with other Egyptians worried about the army's role in this "transitional period" and who are warning about how those who are accustomed to dominate are scheming to pervert a democratic transition. Further WRI visits are planned in support of Maikel and other Egyptian anti-militarists.

At uncertain times like these, WRI has a crucial role to play as an international network based on nonviolent principles and supporting those who the "mainstream" marginalises. To do this, however, we need the continued support of those who share these principles. Please give generously to help WRI continue our work behind the headlines.

Thank you.

Howard Clark

(Chair of WRI)

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