The world is simmering with the spree of protests that have engulfed the world from the Middle East to Asia and South America to the Caribbean. The Middle East has convulsed with so much dissent that some are calling it a second wave of the Arab Spring. The reasons for these on-going protests are myriad. Most of these agitations have been triggered by socio-economic and political factors.
On top of these stimulants, inducing protests are economic disparities. According to Oxfam, the world’s 26 richest individuals owned as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population. Billionaires grew their combined fortunes by $2.5bn a day in 2018, while the relative wealth of the world’s poorest 3.8 billion people declined by $500m a day.
In addition, Jacquelien van Stekelenburg, a professor who studies social change and conflict at Vrije University in Amsterdam says that the data shows that the amount of protests is increasing and is as high as the roaring 60s, and has been since about 2009. Not all the protests are driven by economic complaints, but widening gulfs between the haves and have-nots are radicalizing many young people in particular”.
The world is simmering with the spree of protests that have engulfed the world from Middle East to Asia and South America to the Caribbean
Therefore, it can safely be deduced that income inequalities leading to the ever-widening gap between the haves- and have-nots- is the prime reason behind most of the on-going uprisings against different governments of the world. Apart from this, it is also a general perception that behind these demonstrations is an invisible hand—that is of IMF and World Bank, money lending institutions and of those who pull their strings.
Let’s make a detailed and factual analysis of the on-going conflicts and the factors that have engendered an extremely precarious situation in most parts of the world. In Lebanon, protest is represented by a cross-section of society, spanning the religious and political divides that sparked 15 years of civil war in Lebanon starting in 1975.
Around 1.3 million people, or 20% of the population, are thought to have attended the largest demonstration so far. The government, an unsteady coalition, is divided and dysfunctional, unwilling or unable to invest in the country’s crumbling roads, upgrade its electricity grid (power cuts are still a daily problem), overhaul the waste collection system or address ballooning youth unemployment, among a litany of other issues.
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One of the triggers for the latest protests was a 20-cent tax on WhatsApp calls that the government announced as part of a suite of austerity policies to bring the country’s extremely high public debt burden under control. Under these unwarranted circumstances, Lebanon’s Prime Minister, Saad AL-Harriri, had to resign saying that he had hit “dead end” in trying to resolve the crisis.
In Chile, “Chile desperto” (Chile has awoken) is the main slogan chanted by as many as one million Chilean protestors that thronged Santiago city from all background and cities. Initially, the demonstrators were led by young people including students from across the city, but eventually, people belonging to all sections of society from all over the country joined in. Briefly, Chilean protests started in mid-October, triggered by a hike in public transport fares, but later snowballed into riots, arson and looting which has resulted in heavy casualties so far.
In Catalonia, the reason for the protests is more political than any other socio-economic reason. There are two separate camps of people protesting in Catalonia — People angered over the conviction of several Catalan independence leaders, and those who are against Catalonia seceding from Spain.
The current burst of protests was sparked over a supreme court ruling that gave nine leading separatists politicians and activists lengthy prison sentences, following an illegal and unsuccessful attempt to secede from Spain in 2017. More than 500 people have been hurt, nearly half of them police officers, in clashes since the October 14 Supreme Court verdict. Hong Kong too is witnessing a very strong and massive protest nowadays.
Let’s make a detailed and factual analysis of the on-going conflicts and the factors that have engendered an extremely precarious situation in most parts of the world
The people flooded to roads and streets against the proposed extradition bill that would allow suspects to be transferred to mainland China and tried in courts controlled by the Communist party. That bill has been withdrawn and now protesters are demonstrating against alleged police brutality and against the government for its handling of the crisis.
More broadly, they also oppose growing Chinese influence over the city. In Iraq, Iraqi unemployed youth is at the core of the on-going protests against the Government. The protests have rocked Baghdad and Iraq’s southern provinces, with protesters demanding reforms to fight corruption and unemployment, and calling for a total overhaul of the country’s political system.
Critics say one of the country’s biggest challenges is to calm the conflict before security in the region spirals out of control. Experts are concerned that there is no clear alternative to the current political leadership in Iraq — if they were to step down in response to the protests, the vacuum could lead to an even worse situation.
Read more: Is Britain Fueling The Hong Kong Protests?
Extinction Rebellion is also one of the most potent movements that have shaken most part of the world. It is a worldwide movement that describes its protests as non-violent civil disobedience. The protest movement, also known as XR, has members in more than 60 cities around the world; the protests are in fact, a response to inadequate action on climate change and other environmental issues.
Protests first began in April 2018 in London after a small group of British activists met in Bristol to discuss how to achieve what one early member called “radical social change”. It started as part of the Rising Up network, which describes itself as being born out of the Occupy movement, and includes among its aims, “a rapid change in wealth distribution and power structures”.
The movement’s aim is to mobilize 3.5 percent of the population, which it says is all that’s needed to achieve change. Let me conclude this piece by quoting some prominent political analysts and academicians of the world on this on-going wave of protests around the world.
More broadly, they also oppose growing Chinese influence over the city. In Iraq, Iraqi unemployed youth is at the core of the on-going protests against the Government
Thierry de Montbrial, of the French Institute of International Relations, while commenting on the on-going protests Says: “The traditional system of enforcing power from top to bottom is increasingly being challenged, there is a social revolution with a growing demand for participatory democracy.”
Another noted scholar Van Stekelenburg says, “It is also easier, in a digital, globalized world, to know how the other half (or the 1%) live. There are not just new streams of information, but streams of people. Those youngsters in the Arab spring in all likelihood knew at least one person living overseas, and it creates a kind of relative deprivation – ‘I want to have that too’.”
Read more: Hong Kong Cleans Up After 5 Months of Protests
The proliferation of protests is no guarantee that things will change. “Staging [demonstrations] is no longer the difficult part,” says Youssef Cherif, a political analyst and one of the authors of new Carnegie Endowment research on the success of protest movements. “The problem is what to do after the protests, how to make your point and achieve the goals you’re protesting for. That proves to be the most difficult part.”
Protests and revolutions are defined by idealized slogans, he says, but systematic change is harder work. “You can break off part of a system, but it’s very hard to break the whole structure, which is formed of institutions and networks that are difficult to break.”
“The leaderless nature of many of the protests makes them harder for authoritarian governments to quash, but it may also make the movements more difficult to sustain, says Sanjoy Chakravorty, a professor of global studies at Temple University. “The movements that actually led to change or that were more sustained, they had a basis, a leadership structure, people articulating, organization, going door-to-door to get people to show up to a rally,” he says. “The leadership question is central and that is the thing we haven’t figured out yet: how do we actually find leadership in these inchoate displays of anger…
Abdul Rasool Syed Legal Practitioner & columnist based in Quetta.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.