How do you define the term "non-violence"?
Sami Kilani: Non-violence means respect for another person. I reject the notion of degrading another as a person or as a society and thereby regarding them as something less human. This means applying the same standards to another person as you would to yourself. Non-violence doesn't just mean the absence of violence – just as health doesn't equate to the absence of illness. Non-violence is humanity, justice and freedom. I reject any method that humiliates and degrades people. Violence means all that.
Over recent months, peaceful revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt have toppled dictators who'd been in power for decades. Demonstrations and peaceful protests are also taking place in other Arab nations. How do you evaluate these movements? Are they spontaneous acts or trends that consciously pursue non-violent strategies?
Kilani: It's still too early for a conclusive judgement, but several characteristics can be determined. I think these movements are the outcome of arduous efforts to create an awareness of issues affecting civil society. Many dictatorial regimes in the region tried to placate the West by allowing these activities.
Western NGOs supported local organisations working in the fields of democratisation and human rights. The regimes assumed that these efforts would be nothing more than hot air and that they would have no lasting effects. Now they've been proven wrong.
Another factor is the dissemination of information via modern channels of communication. Both these factors have resulted in a change in awareness among youngsters. The protests represent a genuine product of the young generation.
How do you explain the largely non-violence nature of the protests in Tunisia and Egypt?
Kilani: There is a threshold that makes everything easier once you have crossed it. By this I mean leaving "the structure of pain" and looking at others through the eyes of humanity. That's not easy. Man is ruled by his torments and the desire for revenge. But as soon as you've crossed this threshold this all becomes a normal part of life. You then start wondering why everyone doesn't behave that way.
I think young people have done this. They've crossed the threshold of subjugation, of acceptance that dictatorial conditions are a destiny from which there can be no escape. This threshold and the awareness that they are in their millions, and that it would impossible for the regime to arrest or kill them all, has made this movement possible.
Interview: Mona Naggar, Translation: Nina Coon
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