Erica Chenoweth finds evidence that authoritarian regimes "view nonviolent resistance movements as threatening subversive, precisely because they have fewer tools with which to deal with them without provoking backfire":
Ironically, violent insurgencies may be much easier for dictators to deal with, given that the insurgents confront repressive regimes using methods in which such regimes have a decided resource advantage. The ideal situation for Mubarak would have been for him to face a violent pro-democracy rebellion. He was quite experienced in putting down violent uprisings. This is why he took such pains to employ agents provocateurs to force nonviolent protestors to react with violence--and why we should expect authoritarians in other Middle Eastern regimes to attempt the same tactic.
But in the Egyptian case, even when Mubarak's regime unleashed a wave of armed agents provocateurs, the protestors were prepared to maintain discipline and refuse to escalate their actions, which would have undermined their legitimacy and given Mubarak's security forces the pretext to repress them. Instead, that repression backfired, inspiring near-universal condemnation, resulting in ever more committed mobilization by pro-democracy protestors, and leading to the total refusal of the Egyptian security forces to comply with Mubarak's orders.
(Photo: Flowers are displayed on the barrel of a gun as people demonstrate against Ben Ali's Constitutional Democratic Rally on January 20, 2011, in Tunis. By Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images)