Unarmed power is the future, says thinktank

LONDON & EDINBURGH, February 01, 2011: Governments and agencies in the C21st “need to radically re-orient their policies away from armed force and violence as the prime determinants of social change,” says the beliefs and values think-tank Ekklesia.

The call for “long-term investment in conflict transformation, participatory democracy, peacemaking and peace-building techniques rather than military interventionism” comes as more than a million people occupy the streets of Egypt in the latest stage of an “unarmed revolt” against autocratic rule in the Middle East.

“The significance of unarmed resistance to tyranny in a part of the world where heavily militarised power – and violent counter-reactions to it – has continually and endemically blocked change, should not be underestimated," says Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow.

He continues: “While the change brought about in Tunisia and being mobilised in Egypt could not be described as being without violence, the fact that it is a primarily non-armed expression of popular pressure for freedom, and that it is re-sculpting a frozen political landscape, shows the potential for radically re-orienting our thinking towards nonviolence.”

“Transitions from tyranny to political pluralism and from violent power to peaceful pressure for change are never smooth, unproblematic or unconditional,” adds Barrow. “But as myriad civil society groups will testify, the perils of peace are far preferable to the wanton destruction of war, and the cultural transformation required to move away from tanks, bombs and bullets as a way to bring change is a long term process which requires practical education in the deployment, use and consolidation of unarmed power.”

Regarding the situation in Egypt, ecumenical, legal and political consultant Dr Harry Hagopian, whose paper on 'Politics, Religion and the Middle East' is published by Ekklesia this week, commented: “These popular outbursts are happening not only in the capital Cairo but also across the whole of Egypt, with unarmed men and women confronting the institutions of the state with remarkable determination and responsibility.”

“In essence, they wish to retrieve their dignity after decades of repression as well as lack of democracy or citizenship rights,” says Dr Hagopian. “Under such circumstances, it will be very difficult to lure the genie back into the bottle without some radical and long overdue changes. Cosmetic measures failed to calm spirits in Tunisia, and they will fail in Egypt too. It might also be hard to stop the domino effect of this popular movement from affecting other countries in the Middle East-North Africa region.”

Ekklesia, a thinktank and news briefing service with a particular focus on the role of religion in the quest for peace and social justice, promotes the approach of Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) and other civic, faith, development and human rights groups working for nonviolent change in situations of conflict.

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Notes to editors

1. Founded in 2001, Ekklesia examines politics, values and beliefs in a changing world, from a Christian perspective. It has been listed by The Independent newspaper among 20 influential UK think-tanks. According to Alexa/Amazon, it has one of the most-visited religion and politics / current affairs websites in Britain. More: http://ekklesia.co.uk/content/about/about.shtml

2. For interviews and comment, please contact Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow (simonDOTbarrowATekklesiaDOTcoDOTuk)

3. The essay 'Politics, religion and the Middle East is published here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/14037 The author, Dr Harry Hagopian, is an international lawyer, ecumenist and EU political consultant. He also acts as a Middle East and inter-faith advisor to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales and as Middle East consultant to ACEP (Christians in Politics) in Paris, and he is a regular Ekklesia contributor. Formerly, he was Executive Secretary of the Jerusalem Inter-Church Committee and Executive Director of the Middle East Council of Churches. His own website is www.epektasis.net