Global Protests-A society at war with itself?

The society at present is full of paradoxes- on the one hand, we are on the threshold of the next phase of the digital revolution and the other hand there is anger, distrust and disillusion with the government. Does this signify a failure of the state to fulfil its responsibility towards governance?

Background

Going by TV news, it seems as if the world is in protests in perpetuity. Be it Asia, Africa, the Middle East, South America or even the richer states of Northern America and Europe, protests are sweeping across the world. All have a common denominator- poor governance due to state apathy, corruption and social injustice. So while some get richer, the larger majority continues to slide down the scale of living index.

Some protests have been peaceful, while others have taken violent turns. While some harness the power of the social media and internet to gain traction, others remain more conventional in their methods sitting down silently in mute protest, waiting for the inevitable baton charge or the water cannon. It is interesting to note how governments across the world are responding to these protests- at times it appears as if the two belong to two different countries and are waging war!

Analysis

A protest is a powerful declaration of objection, disapproval or dissent often in opposition to something. When people are powerless against something, they are bound to express their discontent in some manner or the other.

The 2011 Arab spring gained momentum, over the same issues that are plaguing the world today‑ oppressive regimes and low standards of living. The internet and social media have become facilitators to express dissent. In the protests happening this year, the coverage received by a protest in one corner of the world seems to be giving impetus for civil society in another part of the globe to raise their voice against what is happening locally.

Despite the smothering of the Arab Spring, the Arab countries are still very much simmering with protests. In Algeria, Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon, all of the protests were aimed against a corrupt ruling class, rising unemployment and against peculiar laws passed by their respective regimes. In Lebanon, a government of rich oligarchs with huge wealth stashed abroad, proposed taxing of something as basic as messaging services as part of the austerity budget. The Hong Kong pro-democratic protests, which began as a response to the controversial extradition bill, is now widespread and threatening the tenuous ties to the mainland and the very concept of ‘one country two systems’. Hong Kong Government has labelled the protests as a public safety threat- a common weapon of the state. The US government had also accused the 1960s civil rights movement as ‘a threat to public safety’.

Latin America as a region, on the whole, is itself witnessing dissent in almost all countries of the region. In Ecuador, a fuel price hike to secure an IMF loan triggered violent protests, in which an indigenous leader and four other people died. Chile, once a prosperous and stable nation of South America, is in turmoil with President Sebastian Piñera invoking an emergency. Violence broke out mid-October, paralyzing the capital of Chile. Reasons for such discontent stemmed from a hike in metro prices, living costs and the privatization of education, health care and water. In Bolivia, there was a flouting of the democratic mandate when the incumbent president was re-elected after a controversial vote. In Haiti, there has been anger over corruption, inflation, a scarcity of basic goods and demand for the resignation of the president. In Europe too, the populace has been restive. In France from November 2018 till present day, the working class is protesting Macron’s “Jupiterian” regime and rigid pension scheme that he seeks to introduce.

India has seen its own share of protests- from the spirited students of JNU fighting for the rights of the economically underprivileged sections of their students to the silent civil disobedience simmering in the beautiful Kashmir Valley for over four months with no end in sight.

Another set of protests seen across the world this year is those for climate change. We have seen school children protesting across the world. An environmental rights group called ‘Extinction Rebellion’ saw the arrests of its protesters in the UK. The group demanded that the UK government declare a climate emergency and that the government must commit to reducing carbon emissions to net 0 by 2025. On the other hand, the Netherlands was in a Catch 22 situation- in an effort to implement the Nitrogen levels, the farmers were up in arms resulting in huge traffic jams.

Counterpoint

William Faulkner says “Never be afraid to raise your voice, for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world would do this, it would change the earth.” However, the question to be asked is will it and does it?

The decade opened up with protests in 2011 and as it wraps up, from 2018-2019, it has again seen an upsurge of protests. Countries like Egypt, in 2011 saw the overthrow of its oppressive government, of Hosni Mubarak. The protest saw a change in leadership, by the Muslim Brotherhood who were subsequently overthrown by Al Sisi in a coup. Ironically, Al Sisi has banned all forms of protests but Egyptians took to the streets again in the month of October this year to defy this law. The question however posed is, what happens to the country in constant political upheaval. As in the situation in Hong Kong with 6 months of protests, there have been severe economic repercussions. The collateral damage of having protests are huge, there are human rights violations, violence and unrest, that can affect the functioning of societies and ultimately that of a nation-state.

Assessment

  • While the governments would vehemently deny it but any impartial observer would lay the blame on the failure of governance at all levels. From Hong Kong to Russia, from Egypt to France, the masses are seeking dignity and a place in the sun.
  • The protests are not limited to any one kind of governance be it authoritarian or representative democracy. They are uniquely egalitarian in their application!
  • The reasons for protests are also widespread and are not limited to one reason. As seen, some of the main contentions are governance, democracy and social services.
  • Social media was used in the 2011 protests and it remains an effective medium even during the current protests. The scale and replication of protests across the globe can be attributed to global internet penetration.
  • Different regimes and governments are reacting to the demands of the protesters in different ways. Some governments have remained indifferent to the demands while some have responded and there has been a positive outcome, other governments have resorted to violence. Overall, around the world, there is a hardening of attitude and even established democracies are showing a marked intolerance for dissent.

Image Courtesy: bbc.com

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