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A mural in Cairo in 2012 depicted President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and former ministers after he was deposed in the Arab Spring. Credit Tomas Munita for The New York Times

Ten years ago, as masses of demonstrators filled Cairo’s Tahrir Square, I made a modest bet with a friend that Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s dictator of nearly 30 years, would hold on to power. My thinking was that Mubarak controlled the army, and the army could see that the choice Egypt faced wasn’t between democracy and dictatorship. It was the choice among Islamism, chaos — and him.

I lost the bet, but I wasn’t entirely wrong.

Mubarak himself, of course, soon fell, raising broad hopes that decent, stable, representative democracy might yet establish itself not just in Egypt but throughout the Arabic-speaking world.…  Seguir leyendo »

Security forces push anti-government protesters away from al-Nour square in the centre of Lebanon's impoverished northern port city of Tripoli on 31 January 2021 amid clashes. Fathi AL-MASRI / AFP

Starting on 25 January, residents of the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli took to the streets over four consecutive days. Many protested peacefully, but some attacked government buildings and clashed with security personnel, who fired upon them with tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition. Rioters torched the historic municipality headquarters, vandalised the Sunni religious court and government administration building, and hurled Molotov cocktails and, according to authorities, hand grenades at the security forces. By 31 January, the toll was one protester dead and more than 400 injured, along with at least 40 soldiers and police. Lebanese army and military intelligence units detained at least 25 men for their roles in the events.…  Seguir leyendo »

Protesters in Moscow on Sunday. This impressive display of dissent has been met, increasingly, with force. Credit Alexander Zemlianichenko/Associated Press

For the first time in close to a decade, the rule of President Vladimir Putin of Russia may be facing a sustained challenge.

Over the past two weekends, thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of cities and towns across the country to voice their disapproval of the arrest of the anti-corruption campaigner Aleksei Navalny. This impressive display of dissent has been met, increasingly, with force. On Sunday, over 5,000 people were detained — the most ever on a single day in Russia — including 1,600 in Moscow alone.

This strategy of suppression was successful before. In the winter of 2011 and ’12, thousands of people demonstrated against electoral fraud by the ruling United Russia party and Mr.…  Seguir leyendo »

A man waits by a graffiti depicting silhouettes of a man metamorphosing into a bird symbolising freedom, in Mohamed Bouazizi Square in the town of Sidi Bouzid in central Tunisia on 27 October 2020. Photo by FETHI BELAID/AFP via Getty Images.

When reflecting on the past 10 years, it’s clear to see that the Arab Spring is far from over. The popular uprisings in Sudan, Algeria, Iraq and Lebanon over the last couple of years, coupled with ongoing political and socio-economic tensions across the region, show that no political equilibrium has been found. However, waiting for another 2011 moment, as if nothing has changed, would be a mistake.

The political upheavals of 10 years ago have brought about far-reaching transformations to both the political landscape, as well as to the determinants of popular mobilization. Calls for political reform will have to take these transformations into consideration if they are to achieve real change.…  Seguir leyendo »

Protesters on Saturday in Moscow with banners reading “Freedom to Alexsei Navalny! Freedom to Russia!” in support of the jailed opposition leader. After years of relative calm, the country is restive. Credit Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

It’s hard to pin down the exact moment when it became clear the protests on Saturday in Russia — where tens of thousands of people, stretching across the country, called for the release of the jailed opposition leader Aleksei Navalny — were something special.

It definitely wasn’t the violence doled out to protesters and even bystanders — like a woman in St. Petersburg being casually kicked in the gut by a police officer in riot gear — or the deliberate targeting of reporters. Such occurrences are sadly commonplace. It wasn’t even the people coming out to protest in the unlikeliest corners of Russia, like Yakutsk, where the temperatures dipped to minus-60 Fahrenheit.…  Seguir leyendo »

Farmers protest against new legislation in Delhi, December 2020. Photograph: Anindito Mukherjee/Getty Images

In Argentina, huge crowds take to the streets to celebrate the legalisation of abortion. In India, hundreds of thousands of farmers protest against new legislation, while millions take action in support. 2020 might have been a terrible, virus-ravaged year, but it ended with glimmers of new possibilities.

Argentina has become only the third South American nation, after Uruguay and Guyana, to permit elective abortion, a victory founded on decades of activism by women. In 2005, a number of groups came together to create the National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion. A decade later came mass mobilisation against violence against women, a campaign that expanded to demand abortion rights, too.…  Seguir leyendo »

Un manifestante estrecha la mano de un miembro de la Guardia Nacional de Estados Unidos en Los Ángeles el 31 de mayo de 2020. Credit Bryan Denton para The New York Times

Punto de inflexión: La muerte de George Floyd, un hombre negro que en el mes de mayo fue esposado e inmovilizado bocabajo por un policía blanco en Minneapolis, dio lugar a manifestaciones en todo el mundo.

En 2020 no solo nos golpeó una pandemia global, también nos golpearon las macanas de la policía.

Vimos cómo manifestantes de todo el mundo respiraron el aire cargado del gas lacrimógeno, perdieron la vista por balas de goma, padecieron tortura y, en algunos casos, murieron. Con desesperación, tratamos de encontrar a nuestros seres queridos entre aquellos que fueron detenidos y encarcelados por participar en manifestaciones pacíficas.…  Seguir leyendo »

At the end of 2010, I was en route to Sudan for Christmas, scouring Arabic social media in search of scraps of information about a story unfolding in Tunisia; a story the Arab media was censoring and the western media was still ignoring. A street trader, Mohammed Bouazizi, had set himself on fire in protest at the government in the city of Sidi Bouzid, sparking demonstrations that spread across the country.

Weeks before the protests toppled Tunisia’s president-for-life, you could see that something about this uprising was different. There was something about the way the protests resonated in households around the Arab world, the intensity of the moral outrage and the force of the momentum that felt new and exciting.…  Seguir leyendo »

Un hombre pasa junto a un graffiti que representa la metamorfosis de un hombre en pájaro para simbolizar la libertad, en la plaza Mohamed Bouazizi, el 27 de octubre en Sidi Bouzid (Túnez), cuna de la primavera árabe tunecina. FETHI BELAID. GETTY

As a moment in time, the Arab Spring produced breakdown, repression and violence, with Tunisia the only notable exception. Yet, seen over the subsequent decade, these uprisings were merely the first manifestation of popular rejection of a deep malaise that no attempt to quell them could remedy or even frustrate, but only magnify. In hindsight, we may think of revolutions as short, dramatic outbursts that overturn the reigning order, seemingly overnight. In reality, they may take years to unfold before they radically restructure society and the rules that govern it. In the Middle East, such fundamental change has likely only just begun.…  Seguir leyendo »

A Buddhist monk walks with pro-democracy protesters as they carry large inflatable ducks during a march to the 11th Infantry Regiment as part of an anti-government rally in Bangkok on 29 November 2020. Jack TAYLOR / AFP

At a small, rain-soaked pro-democracy rally in Thailand’s north-eastern city of Nakhorn Ratchasima in early October, three young women staged a performance entitled “Who Killed the People?” Appearing first as a trio of anonymous figures bound together by tangled cords, through silent dance and mime their roles emerged: monarch, military and people. In the play’s denouement, “the military” killed “the people” – invoking the massacres of pro-democracy protesters in 1973, 1976, 1992 and 2010 – while the third character struck a regal pose and waved to the crowd. The “monarch” then wrapped the corpse in a Thai flag and deposited her among the audience.…  Seguir leyendo »

The year of lockdowns was simultaneously a year of protest and citizen action. Throughout 2020 numerous hashtags on social media demanded our attention to protest movements, accompanied by sometimes inspiring and sometimes horrifying images. #EndSARS, #BlackLivesMatter, #ShutItAllDown, #zwartepietisracism, #NotMyPresident, the list goes on; all demonstrating to us the commitment and often fearlessness of ordinary citizens across the world asking for equal treatment and concern.

For the Common Futures Conversations community, where young people from Africa and Europe discuss key international issues, the impact of protests and citizen action also became a central focus. Not least of course because many of the protests in both continents are led by young people demanding the future they deserve.…  Seguir leyendo »

Tens of thousands of farmers have marched to the Indian capital of New Delhi from neighboring states to protest new legislation that hurts small farmers and benefits large corporations.

Police unleashed tear gas and water cannons to halt the march, and last weekend protesters blocking major roads leading into New Delhi were met with hundreds of police and paramilitary forces. One senior police official alleged that the protestors pelted police with stones and damaged property, but even if this is true, the heavy-handed response by police is disproportionate.

The current situation may feel like déjà vu to those familiar with modern Indian politics.…  Seguir leyendo »

Women wearing black participate in a nationwide pro-abortion protest on 3 October 2016 in Warsaw, Poland. The protest, called Black Monday, opposes the tightening of anti-abortion laws by the Polish government. Photo: Getty Images.

Hundreds of thousands of women have been protesting in what has become the largest demonstrations seen in Poland since the fall of communism in 1989.

Sparked by a decision by the constitutional court to remove one of the last remaining grounds for abortion, it has grown into broader opposition against the government, with supporters using the slogan #ThisIsWar. Why has this decision, and the outrage it has caused, been so significant?

Annabelle Chapman: Poland has some of the strictest restrictions on abortion in Europe where abortion is banned except in exceptional circumstances such as when a woman’s life is in danger, in cases of rape or incest or in cases of severe foetal defects.…  Seguir leyendo »

Indian farmers gathered to support the ongoing protest against new agricultural laws. (Jagadeesh Nv/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

“I am ready to stay here for 8 months, if I have to,'' Kartar Singh said, his voice roaring with passion. Singh is one of tens of thousands of farmers who have been protesting at the borders of India’s capital against the government’s new farm legislations.

He pulled out a tiny finger-sized photograph from the pocket of his mud-soiled kurta (the Punjabi word for shirt). “Look at this,” he said excitedly, “This is my son. He works for the army and right now he is on duty at the border with China. We are all patriots here. We are ready to die for our country.”…  Seguir leyendo »

A protester shakes the hand of a member of the U.S. National Guard in Los Angeles on May 31, 2020, amid turmoil following the death of George Floyd. Credit Bryan Denton for The New York Times

Turning Point: The death of George Floyd, a Black man who was handcuffed and pinned down by a white police officer in Minneapolis in May, sparked demonstrations around the world.

In 2020 we were not only hit by a global pandemic, but also by police batons. We watched as protesters around the world breathed in air thick with tear gas, lost their eyesight from rubber bullets and endured torture and, in some cases, death. We desperately tried to find our loved ones among those arrested and imprisoned for participating in peaceful protests.

This was a year of radical political imagination: 2020 invited us to take our dreams seriously and inspired us to envision a better, alternative future.…  Seguir leyendo »

El derecho a protestar está asediado

Los líderes autocráticos a menudo buscan nuevas maneras de socavar el derecho a protestar, porque saben que protestar puede ser una fuerza extraordinariamente poderosa para el cambio político y social. A lo largo de la última década, las protestas derrocaron a autócratas, obligaron a gobiernos y corporaciones a reconocer la emergencia climática, dieron voz a los trabajadores que sufren bajo sistemas económicos injustos, e instaron a reformas para hacer frente a la brutalidad policial y el racismo estructural.

Como puntualizó Peter Mutasa, presidente del Congreso de Sindicatos de Zimbabue, institución que este año protestó pidiendo mejores condiciones de trabajo, las protestas son a menudo el “único poder y fuerza compensatoria” frente a gobiernos represivos y es la única manera para que las personas marginadas obtengan acceso a servicios públicos.…  Seguir leyendo »

Farmers listen to a speaker on a blocked highway during their protest against recently passed farm bills, at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border in Ghaziabad, India, on Monday. (Danish Siddiqui/Reuters)

Can farmers marching to Delhi in the midst of a global pandemic restore Indian democracy?

On Nov. 26, tens of thousands of farmers from the northern states of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan began marching to Delhi with a cry — “Delhi chalo” (“Go to Delhi”). The peaceful protesters faced a militarized police force at the Punjab-Haryana and Haryana-Delhi borders. Marchers were met with tear gas, batons and water cannons. Police even used trenches, barbed wire and barricades to stop the farmers.

Yet, after two days of marching, the farmers entered Delhi and secured a meeting with the central government.…  Seguir leyendo »

Governments from Belarus to Kyrgyzstan to Zimbabwe have addressed recent protests with a common response: full or partial Internet shutdowns. Other countries — including Myanmar, Sudan, Venezuela, India and Ethiopia — have also recently limited or barred citizen access to the Internet.

Deliberately cutting off or slowing access to the Internet, in fact, has become increasingly common. In 2019, the #KeepItOn coalition recorded 213 incidents of Internet shutdowns across 33 countries.

Our recent work suggests that shutdowns pose three major challenges for protest movements. Here’s what you need to know.

Protest movements rely increasingly on the Internet

When access to the Internet is shut down, people mobilizing against the government find themselves cut off from essential coordination tools, such as messaging apps, alert systems and crowdsourced protest maps.…  Seguir leyendo »

Manifestantes en las calles de Lima el 17 de noviembre. Credit Aldair Mejia/EPA vía Shutterstock

La movilización masiva de la sociedad peruana a mediados de noviembre, con miles de jóvenes en la primera línea de las manifestaciones, consiguió derrocar en unos días a Manuel Merino, quien después de imponer una moción de vacancia al presidente Martín Vizcarra asumió el poder sin legitimidad ciudadana.

El gobierno de facto ordenó a la policía que saliera a aplastar a la multitud como en los más cruentos días de la dictadura de Alberto Fujimori, en la década de los noventa. Hacía años que en la capital no se vivía una represión policial tan desproporcionada y letal. El día de la marcha nacional, el 14 de noviembre, dos jóvenes, Jordan Inti Sotelo y Bryan Pintado, fueron asesinados, el primero por al menos cuatro disparos de perdigones de plomo y el segundo por once impactos.…  Seguir leyendo »

Why people power doesn’t work like it used to

As most of the world shelters from the novel coronavirus, tens of thousands of brave protesters have been marching through the streets of Minsk and Bangkok for the past several months, defying water cannons, rubber bullets and the risk of imprisonment — or disease. They are demanding the ouster of their autocratic rulers — Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus and Prayuth Chan-ocha of Thailand — and hoping that, like the “people power” movements of dozens of other countries, they will achieve democracy.

Lets hope they do. Sadly, however, the history of the past decade suggests they won’t.

People power, which democratized countries from South Korea and Poland in the 1980s to Georgia and Ukraine in the 2000s and Tunisia in 2010, has been on a losing streak.…  Seguir leyendo »