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Counterrevolutions Are Much More Successful at Toppling Unarmed Revolutions. Here’s Why.

March 07, 2023
Killian Clarke


In analysis for Political Violence At A Glance, an IGCC-supported blog dedicated to political violence and its alternatives, Killian Clarke, an assistant professor at Georgetown University, analyzes the dynamics of revolution and counterrevolution. 

Counterrevolutions have historically received much less attention than revolutions, but the last decade has shown that counterrevolutions remain a powerful—and insidious—force in the world.

In 2013, Egypt’s revolutionary experiment was cut short by a popular counterrevolutionary coup, which elevated General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to the presidency. In neighboring Sudan, a democratic revolution that had swept aside incumbent autocrat Omar al-Bashir in 2019 was similarly rolled back by a military counterrevolution in October 2021. Only three months later, soldiers in Burkina Faso ousted the civilian president Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, who had been elected following the 2014 Burkinabè uprising.

These counterrevolutions all have something in common: they all occurred in the aftermath of unarmed revolutions, in which masses of ordinary citizens used largely nonviolent tactics like protests, marches, and strikes to force a dictator from power. These similarities, it turns out, are telling.

In a recent article, I show that counterrevolutionary restorations—the return of the old regime following a successful revolution—are much more likely following unarmed revolutions than those involving armed guerilla war. Indeed, the vast majority of successful counterrevolutions in the 20th and 21st centuries have occurred following democratic uprisings like Egypt’s, Sudan’s, and Burkina Faso’s.

Why are these unarmed revolutions so vulnerable? After all, violent armed revolutions are usually deeply threatening to old regime interests, giving counterrevolutionaries plenty of motivation to try to claw back power. There are at least two possible explanations.

Read the full blog post at Political Violence At A Glance.