By Mike Smith
20th of August 2015
To most people it always seems as if a revolution was simple. As if people fed up with the oppressive regime spontaneously went onto the streets one day and deposed the dictator.
This perception is however, wrong and it is the same mistake the Syrians made in 2011.
When the Tunisians staged the Jasmine Revolution on the 17th of December 2010, it started the “Arab Spring”.
Within less than a month, dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was deposed and fled with his wife to Saudi Arabia. It looked so easy.
Because of fierce football rivalry between Tunisians and Egyptians, the Egyptians did not want to be outdone so started their revolution on the 25th of January 2011 and 18 days later, Dictator Hosni Mubarak was deposed.
Fuelled by the success of the seemingly easy manner the Tunisian and Egyptian revolts went, the Syrians thought they could simply do the same, i.e. go on the streets with no plan, protest a bit, say “BOO” and Dictator Bashar al Assad would run away.
Needless to say, this ended up in a disaster. Almost five years later and Syria is gripped in a seemingly endless civil war with thousands dead.
What the Syrians forgot was that Mohamed Adel, leader of the Egyptian youth movement called “The April 6 Movement” and other pro democracy activists were trained by Srdja Popovic and other Otpor! members at CANVAS in Serbia three years prior to the revolt. Gene Sharp’s book, “From dictatorship to democracy” was translated into Arabic and freely circulated in Cairo.
The Egyptians structured and planned their campaign and educated people over two years before what we saw on television, namely masses of people on the streets.
Incidentally “The April 6 Movement” uses the same clenched fist symbol as us, the one from Otpor!
There is no leader
Forget about a “Messiah” leader like Jesus or Moses who led the Israelites to the Promised Land. There is not going to be one.
There is not going to be a “General De la Rey” on his horse coming from the Western Transvaal to lead the Boers, as Afrikaans singer Bok van Blerk sings… And besides, you don’t want one.
A leader is a target. You don’t give a dictator a target you give him a dilemma. You suck him into a void and let him chase what is not there.
The dictatorship has an uncanny habit of going after leaders of organizations that oppose it. Having one strong leader is a weak link for the organisation. He can be arrested, kidnapped, bribed, coerced or assassinated and the organization can disintegrate. Even a good leader can sometimes take bad decisions, like General Piet Cronje at the Battle of Paardeberg where he surrendered with 4000 men, a tenth of the Boer army.
People need to unite around an idea, not a single leader. Our idea is "Our vision of tomorrow".
The dictator cannot arrest what is not there and how is he going to arrest an idea?
That does not mean the democracy movement is leaderless. What you need is “a network of leaders” in a cell structure. 200 cells of say 10 people each is a total of 2000 activists across the country that can train more and more activists and create split off cells.
All are operating independently from each other, using the same symbols and united around the same idea. If one person falls out there are hundreds more to take his/her place and the movement does not come to a halt, but carries on and grows. Each group executing their own little acts of defiance and mini-revolutions .
The cell group structure has another advantage. It creates competition. The one group always thinks it can outdo the other group in bravery and acts of defiance until critical mass is reached. That is when you go out onto the streets.
This structure is much more resilient, because the dictator cannot arrest everyone. The cell structure was also used by the ANC during Apartheid. Funny enough, many churches including the NG Kerk (Dutch Reform Church) use a Cell group structure for home churches so this is something quite familiar to many in SA.
A typical cell group is made up of 6-12 members with a leader. When the group grows bigger it splits into two, and those two into two, etc.
A group of viruses invading a body does not have a leader . Fleas on a dog does not have a leader, but their collective and constant biting will drive the dog insane, haemorrhage it and eventually kill it. It is what Robert Taber called The War of the Flea
Secrecy or openness?
Let’s face it…if the dictator wants to find out what the opposition is planning, it will. It is often impossible to keep the political police and intelligence agents from learning about intentions and plans.
Secrecy is not only rooted in fear, but contributes to fear which dampens the spirit of resistance. It leads to mistrust, suspicions and accusations often unjustified, within the movement, concerning who is an informer or agent for the regime and who is not.
In contrast, openness regarding intentions and plans will not only have the opposite effects, but will contribute to an image of fearlessness and that the resistance movement is in fact extremely powerful. It has nothing to hide. It is exercising its constitutional rights to peaceful assembly, demonstration, picket and petition (section 17 of the Bill of Rights), Freedom of expression (section 16), political rights (section 19), etc.
Having said that, there are significant aspects of resistance activities that may require secrecy. A thorough assessment of these aspects will be needed.
For instance, the editing, printing, and distribution of underground publications, the use of radio broadcasts from within the country, and the gathering of intelligence about the operations of the dictatorship are among the special limited types of activities where a high degree of secrecy will be required. We fear naught, but God.