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Why dictators now face civilian revolt, from Syria to Swaziland

Protests in a growing number of countries show that citizens have more tools at their disposal to throw their dictators off balance, if not out of power.

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In this citizen journalism image made on a mobile phone, anti-Syrian President Bashar al-Assad protesters flash V-victory signs as a woman in the foreground displays her hands with the Arabic word reading: 'leave,' during a demonstration against the Syrian regime, in Edlib province, Syria, on Friday.

Shaam News Network/AP

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Authoritarian regimes are crumbling across North Africa; street protests are rocking capitals from Syria to Swaziland. Is the age of dictators finally over?

Certainly dictators have been around for thousands of years, and for every strongman turned out of office in the past few months, there are dozens still holding onto power.

And yet, what protests in a growing number of countries show is that citizens have a greater sense of courageous solidarity and more tools at their disposal to throw their dictators off balance, if not out of power.

"I think the statement, 'The age of dictators is over,' is a bit dramatic and too simplistic, but we have certainly reached a key point in our history," says Gene Sharp, author of an influential book for nonviolent protest, "From Dictatorship to Democracy."

"The knowledge of how to get rid of dictators is spreading," Mr. Sharp says, noting that nonviolent techniques are now being used in Africa, the Middle East, and even military-run Burma (Myanmar). "Nonviolent struggle is not intuitive. It's not spontaneous. It's learning how to think about the problem of authoritarianism, and what to do about the problem. And that knowledge is spreading."

Ousting dictators: It takes more than a smartphone

It takes more than a smart phone to take on an authoritarian regime, of course.

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