One goal of nonviolent resistance movements is to legitimize themselves in opposition to governments by undermining the latter’s leadership. We argue nonviolent groups that can ‘own’ the national identity are more likely to succeed, as they can assert the legitimacy of their vision for the state, and persuade other sectors of society to support their cause. Our argument is supported by the Arab Spring uprisings, where those resistance movements that were able to identify and claim ownership over a homogeneous national identity were more successful in pressing their claims. We view national identity as a component of symbolic power in both successful and unsuccessful nonviolent revolutions. We supplement our argument via a comparison of the Arab Spring uprisings featuring Egypt, Bahrain, and Libya, with nonviolent movements of the past: the ‘early’ cases (Northern Ireland, Iran, and the Philippines) and the color revolutions (Serbia, Georgia, and the Ukraine). We posit that the role of national identity, while not a determinant of success, can play an important role in the struggle for legitimacy, which may help determine the prospects of success for these movements.

Author Bio(s)

Landon E. Hancock is an Associate Professor at Kent State’s School of Peace and Conflict Studies, where he researches issues related to identity and agency in conflict resolution and peacebuilding. He is editor of Narratives of Identity in Social Movements, Conflicts & Change (2016) and co-editor (with Christopher Mitchell) of Zones of Peace (2007), Local Peacebuilding and National Peace (2012) and a forthcoming volume, Local Peacebuilding and Legitimacy. His articles have appeared in numerous journals including Peacebuilding, National Identities, Ethnopolitics, Peace & Change, and Conflict Resolution Quarterly.

Anuj Gurung is a PhD candidate in the Political Science Department at Kent State University. His dissertation research is on the resettlement of Bhutanese-Nepali refugees in the U.S. His primary research interest lies in international migration, ranging from refugee issues to migrant identities. He has also earned an MA in Conflict Resolution from Georgetown University. His work on the link between human trafficking and natural disaster can be found in International Area Studies Review.


Nonviolence, National Identity, Color Revolutions, Arab Spring

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