Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Protests Are Apparently Super "In" Right Now (and Spreading Like Wildfire!)

In 2011, the world was stunned as protests spread from Tunisia to Egypt to eventually nearly every country in the Middle East. In the most severe cases, such as Tunisia and Egypt, those protests quickly morphed into violent battles between citizens disillusioned with their government and the military desperately propping that government up. Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya have all undergone a transition to a new government after the old ones fell - in Syria, the final outcome of the "Arab Spring" remains to be seen. However, it was a transformational period not just for the region, but for the entire world.

Now, in two countries on two different continents are undergoing some of the biggest and potentially most violent protests the world has seen since 2011 (not including the ongoing crisis in Syria). Turkey is in the midst of its third week of dealing with outraged citizens. The tensions appear to be escalating, with the Turkish deputy Prime Minister announcing this week that the Turkish army may have to step in to end the riots for good. The gravity of the situation, as I wrote last week, is severe. Turkey may be losing out for good on their bid to join the E.U., and Prime Minister Erdogan's reputation as being a beacon of hope for the possibility of secularism across the Middle East is waning rapidly.

The scene in Brazil

Meanwhile, across the globe is a entirely unrelated protest that I think by week's end will have escalated into a full-on national crisis. Earlier this week tens of thousands turned out in major cities all over Brazil to protest. The movement has seemingly gained force over the past day or so, and despite the government's acknowledgment and even praise of the protestors for voicing their opinions, it does not appear the situation will be resolved peacefully or in the near future.

What is striking about these two incidents is the similarities they have in common. Despite the geographic, cultural, and religious differences, both of these protests were sparked by a seemingly minor event. Turkey's woes began over the proposal to demolish one of the last green spaces in Istanbul, and erect on the property a mall designed to replicate an Ottoman-era army barracks. In Brazil, the protests began over the proposed fare hike for buses. On their own these instances do not seem particularly protest-worthy - they do not violate human rights, do not indicate any harsh abuse or violence inflicted upon the citizens by the government, etc. etc. But they were the figurative loose threads that once the protesters began to unravel, pulled apart the entire garment (improved rights for sweatshop workers reference!). Now, Turkey's protests have erupted not just in Istanbul but all across the country, and have grown to be aimed at Erdogan's government and his apparent inching the country back towards Ottoman-era glory as opposed to moving forward into the 21st century and, ultimately, affluence. Brazil's protests have grown in scope and are essentially against the government's inability to properly care for its citizens, despite spending outrageous amounts of money on new stadiums and facilities for the upcoming World Cup and Olympics. And, for the record, the bus fare hike was significant for the working class citizens of the country: to compare it to the U.S. and the dollar, the new bus fares would have been the equivalent to nearly $6 out of our minimum wage of $7.25!

The scene in Turkey

It will be interesting to see how these two completely different countries handle their respective situations. The Turkish government has been nothing but bellicose and aggressive, indicating that there is likely much more bloodshed to occur before order is restored. The Brazilian government has taken the opposite approach, coming out immediately saying they are ready to work with the people (and rescinding the fare hike proposal), but their warmth has been met by even more Brazilians out in the streets and an increase in violence.

The scariest, and most interesting, part of this is that the governments, economies and cultures that led to these protests are shared by many countries all over the world. Just because riots have not broken out anywhere else does not mean they won't ever. In reality, it is very possible another "Arab Spring" breaks out, but this time all over the world and much more prevalent. If anything, these protests should be a wake up call to those other similar countries to avoid the plights of their fellow states. Without that wakeup call, we may find ourselves in a very shaky predicament in the next few months.

No comments:

Post a Comment