As the year 2019 comes to an end, FaultLines looks back at what binds many protests in many countries. Mass protests have broken out in countries from Lebanon to Spain to Chile and Bolivia. All are different – with distinct causes, methods, and goals – but there are some common themes that connect them.

The blog is based on discussions and inputs from Mr. Anurag Agrawal, Senior Vice-President, Response, The Times of India Group


This year the world witnessed 72 protests in different countries and regions. These protests include basic economic goals, reversing of fare hikes or change in governments.

While thousands of miles apart, protests have begun for similar reasons in several countries, and some have taken inspiration from each other on how to organise and advance their goals.

There has been a common theme in these protests most of them have happened around four basic themes that are;

Inequality

As the divide between rich and poor widens many countries will face more protests.

Many of those protesting are people who have long felt shut out of the wealth of their country. In several cases, a rise in prices for key services has proved the final straw.

For the defenders of the free-market in Latin America, October-December has been a dismal period. In Chile, the capitalists’ favourite Latin American economy protests against a rise in fares on the Santiago metro descended into rioting and then became a 1.2m-person march against inequality and inadequate public services.

 

Chile ranks as one of the worst-performing countries on the rich-poor divide among the nations part of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Sebastián Piñera, the center-right president, sacked some officials and promised reforms. In Argentina, voters booted out the pro-business president, Mauricio Macri, after one term. Instead, they elected Alberto Fernández, whose Peronist movement prefers a muscular state to vigorous markets.

Both countries are rising up against “neoliberal” governments.

In Chile’s case, a normal fare hike on Santiago metro and then the withdrawal caused nation-wide protests which included middle class and lower class taking to the roads despite huge financial differences between the classes.

In Ecuador, people took on to the road when the government signed an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to take back the subsidises on fuel as part of public spending cuts.

This resulted in a sharp increase in fuel prices which had a domino-effect on public transport fares, food costs and an increase in the cost of other public services. In Ecuador, the rural areas were the worst affected.

In the Middle East, especially in Lebanon, with plans to tax WhatsApp calls prompting wider protests about economic problems, inequality, and corruption.

With debt levels soaring, the Lebanese government is trying to arrive at an economic relief package from international donors.

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Corruption

After the terrible run of ISIS hostilities, Iraq is trying to rebuild itself. In Baghdad, protesters have staged protests against the incumbent government on charges of corruption.

What is at the heart of these protests? That same, old sectarian divide of Iraq. The same sectarian divide that helped Saddam Hussain run reign of terror in Iraq against Shiites and later Shiite government of Nouri Al-Maliki against Sunnis.

One of the main points of contention there is the way government appointments are made on the basis of sectarian or ethnic quotas, instead of on merit.

Protests against alleged government corruption have also taken place in Egypt.

The demonstrations in September this year were prompted by a call from Mohamed Ali, an Egyptian businessman living in self-imposed exile in Spain, who accused President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and the military of corruption.

Egypt was also one of those countries that were able to overthrow a dictator type government in 2011 during the Arab Spring movement.

His allegations are that Sisi, the government and the military have been mishandling funds resonated with many Egyptians who have grown increasingly disaffected by austerity measures.

In Bolivia’s 2019 presidential election, many voters said corruption was their biggest concern and blamed the former President Evo Morales for failing to tackle the issue.

 

Political Freedom

Hong Kong protests best suit this kind of protest. These protests have happened because people in many countries feel trapped in their political systems.

Demonstrations in Hong Kong began this summer over a bill that would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China in certain circumstances.

Hong Kong is considered by China as its turf, but Hong Kong people enjoy special freedoms and there is a fear building that Beijing wants to exert greater control.

Like fellow protesters in Chile and Lebanon, the mass action in Hong Kong led to the withdrawal of the controversial legislation, but the protests themselves continued.

Among their demands, protesters now want complete universal suffrage, an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality and judicial protection for demonstrators who have been arrested.

Thousands of kilometers apart in Spain, the fellow Hong Kong protestors have inspired protests demanding the release of Catalan leaders. Spain’s very own problem of Catalonia independence.

Hundreds of thousands of people have rallied in Barcelona to express anger over the jailing of Catalan separatist leaders. The separatists were convicted on 14 October of sedition over their role in a 2017 referendum outlawed by the Spanish courts and a following declaration of independence.

Climate change

Of course, many of the protests that you hear about have been linked to the environment and climate change.

Activists from the Extinction Rebellion movement have been protesting in cities around the world, as they demand urgent action from governments.

The protests have taken place in countries including the US, UK, Germany, Spain, Austria, France, and New Zealand. Participants have glued and chained themselves to roads and vehicles, and tried to disrupt busy city centres.

Many also joined world-wide protests after being inspired by a 14-year old Greta Thunberg’s call for a rally against climate change, demanding actions from world leaders.

These were some common themes around the world that bound the protestors and protests as well as showed improvements in staging, managing and fulfilling their goals.

 

And as Paul Young, a famous 80s singer has rightly said in his song ‘Everytime You Go Away’,“Hey! if we can solve any problem, Then why do we lose so many tears”

 

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