STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Some protestors in Egypt say they took inspiration from an American. He's a retired professor of political science named Gene Sharp. For decades now, people have read Dr. Sharp's book, "The Politics of Nonviolent Action." More recently, he put out a book called "From Dictatorship to Democracy," which is a how-to guide to nonviolent resistance.
Dr. Sharp's writings were inspired, among other things, by the protest movement led by Gandhi that brought about the independence of India in 1947. Serbians followed Sharp's advice, and then passed it on to Egyptians, we're told. And so we're going to talk about this with Dr. Sharp.
Welcome to the program.
Dr. GENE SHARP (Author, "The Politics of Nonviolent Action" and "From Dictatorship to Democracy"): Thank you very much.
INSKEEP: In this book "From Dictatorship to Democracy," you use the word realistic more than once. What is necessary in order to have a realistic plan for a non-violent protest against a dictatorship?
Dr. SHARP: First of all, if you're living under a dictator, you really have to know that particular system extremely well, including its weaknesses, because dictators are never as powerful as they tell you they are.
Secondly, you need to understand nonviolent struggle extremely well. And finally, you need to be able to think strategically.
INSKEEP: Think strategically, meaning don't just don't create chaos, create a better situation.
Dr. SHARP: You need to determine: What are you going to do first? Do you identify weaknesses in the regime that are dependent on certain sources of power? How can you cut those sources of power off in order to weaken the dictatorship's power?
INSKEEP: Why is nonviolent resistance preferable to violent resistance?
Dr. SHARP: Because it's wise. Why should you choose to fight with your enemy's best weapons? That doesn't make sense at all. Nonviolent struggle is a kind of people-power. You have a much greater chance of succeeding by you choosing the means that they're not equipped to deal with effectively.
INSKEEP: You know, several times during the Egyptian crisis, Hosni Mubarak got up in front of the TV cameras and said, okay, I'll negotiate with you. He made what seemed like conciliatory gestures, and the protestors almost universally said no. And now I look in this book, "From Dictatorship to Democracy," and it turns out that was exactly, or very close to your advice: Be very wary of negotiating with dictators. Why?
Dr. SHARP: That's right, because those were gimmicks. Those were tools to hoodwink the protestors. People negotiate on the basis of power. And a dictatorship thinks it has a great deal of power, which it does. But then the protestors are learning they have a great deal of power, and can even have more power if they use their heads.
INSKEEP: What makes it so complicated? On the surface, you could see it being very simple: people go out on the streets, they stay out on the streets, they make demands.
Dr. SHARP: That's too simplistic for them to succeed. The situation is - this type of struggle is really more complicated than this conventional warfare.
INSKEEP: The moment after a dictator has left must be, in some ways, the most difficult moment, because people are celebrating. They've just been through, quite possibly, a terrible struggle, people are exhausted and they want to go home. And yet that can be the moment when the greatest effort is required.
Dr. SHARP: That moment, it's okay to celebrate maybe for two or three days. But they must have been thinking ahead of time what they're going to do next, and they must be prepared and backup up plans, and have those already disseminated so the population can act bravely if there's an attempt at take-over.
INSKEEP: Dr. Sharp, how old are you?
Dr. SHARP: I'm 83.
INSKEEP: Eighty-three years old. You've been working on this field for decades. I'm curious. The Egyptian protestors feel they learned something from you. From observing them, have you learned anything from them?
Dr. SHARP: I was amazed when I saw, very early on in the Egyptian struggle, this testimony: We are not afraid anymore. We've lost our fear - not because they were safe, because many were wounded and killed. But they had lost their fear. That is something Gandhi always advocated, but I also doubt that it's quite so simple. Once a regime is no longer able to frighten people, and people then act wisely and keep nonviolent discipline, which is extremely important, then that regime is in big trouble.
INSKEEP: Dr. Gene Sharp, thanks very much.
Dr. SHARP: Thank you so much.
INSKEEP: He's head of the Einstein Institution and author of "From Dictatorship to Democracy," among other books.
(Soundbite of music)
INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.