By Nicolas SandersPosted on 14-12-2019Changed on 14-12-2019 at 08:45
2019 was the year of soaring protest movements around the world. In spite of differences from one country to another, the reasons for popular anger often draw from the same source. That of the disenchantment of peoples with a whole system which no longer understands them.
From Chile to Hong Kong, from Algeria to Lebanon, via France, Ecuador or Iraq, angry crowds with no real leader invaded the streets in 2019 to demand fairness, freedom and dignity to aging ruling elites. The slogans chanted in Paris, Beirut and Santiago reflect the clear distrust of the demonstrators in the face of a “neo-liberal” economic system which is no longer perceived as a vector of social advancement. Above all, protesters from all countries denounce a democracy that does not exist or is completely deaf to the grievances of citizens. If there is a common point in all these popular demonstrations, it is well the source of their starting. More often than not, it is an anti-social measure that sets fire to the powder. Rise in the price of the metro ticket in Chile, tax on WhatsApp calls in Lebanon , fuel tax in France, explosion in the price of bread in Sudan ... Another notable similarity of these movements which ignite the world, anger does not weaken despite the withdrawal of the sticking point, as for example in Hong Kong with the withdrawal of the extradition law to China.
2019, a great vintage of mobilization
" 2019 seems like a great vintage in terms of mobilizations ", judges Olivier Fillieule, professor of political sociology at the University of Lausanne and specialist in social movements. " But this is neither new nor exceptional, we will remember that at the end of 2011, Time magazine elected '' the protester '' as personality of the year. The mobilizations of 2019 are part of the same historical sequence , “tempers the sociologist. If these revolts have their roots in the movements of the beginning of the decade - the Arab Spring, launched at the end of 2010 in Tunisia, or even Occupy Wall Street , in September 2011, against the austerity and the abuses of financial capitalism - the internet has undeniably increased movements, even more than in 2011. In less than ten years, the number of Internet users in the world has more than doubled, reaching 4.5 billion people. " In view of the development of means of communication, social networks, etc., it is obvious that the Iranians have meditated on what was happening in Algeria, the Algerians meditate on what is happening in Iraq, the Iraqis meditate on this that it is happening in Chile, etc. », Confirms to RFI Didier Billion, deputy director of IRIS (Institute of International and Strategic Relations).
These rebellions have in common that they are built in " horizontality ", " without a leader, without organization or structuring at first ," observes Olivier Fillieule. Mobility riots which in a very short time can gather impressive crowds without a real leader. In Algeria, social networks have played " a very important role ", according to Okba Bellabas, one of the 25 founding members of the Collectif des jeunes engaged cited by AFP: " The word is relayed faster than before, it can go very fast . " In Hong Kong as in Barcelona, protesters pass slogans via secure messaging or specially created apps that can be downloaded with a QR code. In Iran, Iraq or even in Egypt, the rulers confronted with the uprisings tried to stem them by cutting the Internet, without much success in the duration.
The desire to be heard
Of course, the national context is specific to each revolt and the contingencies are not everywhere identical. But many specialists sketch basic trends, starting with a violent resentment against the elites which results in a fall in their legitimacy. " The economic dysfunctions revealed by the 2008 crisis were transferred from the elites to the less powerful through austerity, unemployment, insecurity, " said Jake Werner, professor at the University of Chicago. Several common denominators " but we must not be mechanical ", warns Didier Billion. Beyond the incontestable aspect of the spontaneity of these movements, the geopolitologist outlines two major groups of demands, social and economic on the one hand, and political on the other. Knowing that these two types of claims can be combined. “ In Algeria, at the start, it was clearly political with the refusal for Bouteflika to run for a fifth term . In other places, it is first of all linked to economic reasons, like in Lebanon, ”he explains. And as in Hong Kong or Khartoum, economic demands can succeed or be associated with political demands. Each time, the same slogans come back against social inequalities or against corruption. On the political level, “ beyond local specificities, it is the desire to be heard, the fact that those who take to the streets consider that they are not being listened to, that they are excluded from the spheres of power, for multiple reasons once again ”analyzes Didier Billion.
" From Lebanon to Iraq, our pain is one ", could one read on a sign in Beirut, in front of the headquarters of Electricity of Lebanon (EDL), symbol of the collapse of the Lebanese public services, an evil that the Iraqis painfully share, those who every summer demonstrate against electricity shortages. " If there is a social injustice that is no longer bearable in a country where there are protest movements, it is because there is everywhere the application of austerity plans, which are either wanted by international bodies, for example the IMF, or may have more local roots, ”said Didier Billion. “ Society no longer supports paying, paying. They squeezed the lemon and it would eventually collapse, ”said a Chilean protester interviewed by local TV in late October.
Against the "neo-liberal disorder"
“ It is not the same everywhere, but this neoliberal order which has imposed itself almost on the whole world is causing social damage. The demonstrators therefore consider their governments as relays of the neoliberal world order, or rather what I call "the liberal world disorder ", "says Didier Billion. What about Hong Kong or Algeria? “ The Algerian FLN state is integrated into the globalized, capitalist and neoliberal system, like China. They are not neoliberal states, they are states parties to the neoliberal order. This takes singular forms , ”nuances the deputy director of IRIS.
The global slowdown of the economy, the permanent increase in inequality, all against the background of the crisis of representative democracy, are all factors of convergence for protest movements around the world. The regular use of the national flag in protest movements is another point of agreement between the protesters. As much as the demonstrators mobilize against the regimes in place, they display their attachment to their homeland, considering in a way that their rulers betray national interests. “ This dialectic has already been verified during the Arab Spring of 2011/2012 . It is very interesting for what it means for the relationship of nations to the globalized order. Nations must not be written off, ”notes Didier Billion.
The repression, infinitely brutal like what happened in Iran and Iraq, and like what seems to take shape in Lebanon, or before in Chile, and also in Hong Kong , is another element common to these rebellions. This is often because the governments in place always react with a delay, explains Didier Billion. " The governments react to the demand at a point T while the demonstrators are already at time T + 1. So the claims are broadening to other issues, "he judges. There is obviously no question of comparing the force used by the Iranian police apparatus with for example that used in France against the " yellow vests ". However, it must be noted that such repression has never been used in France against a social movement.
If the current protest movements share with the mobilizations of the last ten years the absence of spokespersons and the refusal of any partisan recovery, it is both their strength and their limit. " As long as there is no democratic organization to seize these movements, not to divert them, but to structure them, it is a weakness ", continues the geopolitologist. And to cite the case of Sudan which experienced a strong mobilization and a lot of violence with the use of militias because of the division of the army. This is a counterpoint to judge Didier Billion, because in Sudan there were very organized structures with in particular the powerful Association of Sudanese professionals: " It is the presence of well-known and well-organized leaders which made it possible to reach a compromise. It is the difference with all the other movements, at this stage. They have not yet shown this form of organization ”.
Whatever the preponderance or not of local factors in the emergence of protest movements that shook the planet in 2019, the desire to impose transformations on an economic and / or political system remains a common foundation. Very often violently arrested in processions, the ruling elites now face popular anger demanding that they be accountable for their actions to the people. An anger that we can hardly imagine crumbling in 2020.
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