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The spectre of protest

Published Jun 24, 2013 01:28pm


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enter image description hereGovernments have a huge headache on their hands.

The massive protests in Turkey and Brazil (and the promise of more in Egypt) appear to be a sign of extreme anger inside people spilling on to the streets.

Some months ago, a government was brought down in Bulgaria after a huge hike in electricity rates. The rest of the world didn’t seem to take much notice.

The ouster of Hosni Mubarak as Egypt’s president hasn’t quelled the people’s desire for more change in the West Asian nation. Egyptians are now planning a huge demonstration on June 30 demanding President Mohammed Morsi’s resignation.

Make no mistake, the anger is real.

If the protests in Turkey started with efforts to change the land use of a park, they went on to demonstrate that people are generally unhappy with Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s government.

The violence unleashed by Erdogan’s police force is a reminder that the job of the State is to keep the people in order.

In Brazil, President Dilma Roussef’s decision to withdraw a proposed bus fare hike hasn’t led to the suspension of protests. Millions have been on the streets.

To summarise: no one is giving up. They remain at it.

It’s not my case to suggest that these protests are joined at the hip. They are not. Each has their own context and drivers.

But the concept of “sharing” – your anger and concerns is common to the protests. Facebookers and Twitter users have leveraged these two media to telling effect to both propagate concerns and organise protests.

We’ve also seen that traditional media often allies with social media with telling effect – so that the why and where to gather become non-issues. Communication is constant and seamless.

Of course, we have seen that governments have tried to crack down on the use of mobile phones or the internet in general.

But, so far, these ham-handed methods have not worked. Neither has the brutal methods used by the police. Brutality has limited uses, especially when elections have to be fought.

From Turkey to Brazil and earlier from Shahbag in Bangladesh to Bulgaria, people are sending a rather simple message of distaste to their governments.

Many of these protests are leaderless in the sense they are beyond the pale of established political outfits, a phenomenon that is commentary enough on mainstream groups.

Entire families were sitting in Taksim square in Turkey, quite uncaring about the consequences of police action. In that sense, these are a new kind of protest where previously apolitical people have also taken to the streets.

While change of government may be welcomed by the protesters, these are not simply about changing governments. There is frustration about issues like corruption – an issue which established governments have shown little appetite in addressing – especially since they might benefit from dealings with the corrupt.

In Brazil, the construction of new stadiums for the upcoming football World Cup is a major target for the millions who have taken to the streets.

A sense of exclusion from mega projects where the State may spend millions of dollars is also evident. It’s a pretty simple whats-in-it-for-me type of message that’s coming through these protests.

To my mind, these are good for democracy and people’s participation in politics. Protests imply engagement with issues and that can only be welcomed by democrats.

The governments that engage with the protesters will be better off than those which use brutal methods to crush dissent.

In this new, networked, connected world, dissent can’t be crushed.

Governments might find that their decision-making will have to become far more consultative if they want to keep their streets quiet.

Author Image

Amit Baruah is an independent, Delhi-based journalist. He is the author of Dateline Islamabad and reported for The Hindu newspaper from Pakistan. He tweets @abaruah64.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (10) Closed

GT Jun 24, 2013 02:10pm

In places like Turkey and Brazil, where there has been distinct recent economical growth and where the bellies of the public are full and well fed, rallies and protests of abstract nature are noticeable.

In economically struggling countries, it is hard to see the beleaguered uneducated and hungry taking on to the streets and making any difference at all. They will be ignored by the public and the media. For the media, it will not be a good writing material.

Nargis Khurram Jun 24, 2013 02:31pm

Just a minor correction Egypt is in the West of Asia but would be considered a North African State....

K G Surendran Jun 24, 2013 02:30pm

In an era of instant communication across the globe we are going to see more such protests if elected policy makers do not stay in touch with reality and sense the discontent. This should usher in the era of smarter governance where accountability will be key to elections.

Sumit Mazumdar Jun 24, 2013 09:07pm

Baruah missed the protests in his own backyard. First the massive protests in New Delhi earlier in the year against the violence women face and the misogyny in India. And now very similar protests in West Bengal, after very similar crimes against women. These are not one-dimensional onetime protests, - the participants in all cases are protesting against the criminalization of politics that has happened in India (in particular in the so-called progressive state of West Bengal) over the past many decades.

Mustafa Jun 25, 2013 02:35am

"The ouster of Hosni Mubarak as Egypt

Amit Baruah Jun 25, 2013 03:41pm

@Sumit Mazumdar: Actually, I didn't miss it. Here's some stuff that you might like to see

Azhar Ali Jun 25, 2013 04:44pm

Agree with GT, at places where people are struggling it is hard to see large demonstrations (only violence and bloody revolutions should be expected) but at places where people are some what settled this is normal. The demonstrations against a certain issue like rape incident in India is exceptional category.

Mustafa Jun 26, 2013 12:32am


"Baruah missed the protests in his own backyard. First the massive protests in New Delhi earlier in the year against the violence women face and the misogyny in India."

Violence against women or misogyny are not really political issues, although political parties would try to make an issue out of them. You can check that all political parties have the same public stance on issues like these and on things like education, economy and fairness etc.

Mustafa Jun 26, 2013 12:39am

"While change of government may be welcomed by the protesters, these are not simply about changing governments. There is frustration about issues like corruption."

In Egypt and Turkey it is really one point agenda. Islam!!. the anti-Islamic groups are in need of creating a reason to over rule the ballot box, and of course the Western media is all for it.

umesh bhagwat Jun 26, 2013 07:07am

excellent article!