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Against The Odds: How Effective Is Protest? – Analysis



If there is one theme, beyond corruption and a host of economic and social grievances, that has driven protests – large and small, local, sectoral and national – across the globe, it has been a call for dignity. Reflecting a cyclical global breakdown in confidence in political systems and leadership that has ushered in an era of defiance and dissent about to enter its second decade, the quest for dignity and social justice links protests in Middle Eastern and North African countries like Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Algeria and Sudan, to demonstrations in nations on multiple continents ranging from Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Haiti to France, Zimbabwe, Indonesia, Pakistan and Hong Kong.

The protests are the latest phase of an era that erupted in 201l and unfolded most dramatically in the Middle East and North Africa with the toppling of the autocratic leaders of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. Eight years on from those Arab revolts, protesters, determined to secure recognition and their place in society, underline lessons learnt by no longer declaring victory once a leader is forced to make concessions or resign as was the case in 2019 in Algeria, Sudan, Lebanon, Iraq and Bolivia. They have also learnt not to fall into the trap of easily exploitable sectarian ethnic, religious and social divides like in Iraq and Lebanon. That and the realization that street power needs to be sustained until the modalities of transition are in place is key to enhancing the chances of protest producing tangible change.

Equally important for the future of protest as an effective tool in a world in which powerful external forces often support vested domestic interests to thwart change, is protesters’ ability to recognize a common interest that transcends ideology, class, sect and ethnicity. That may be universally true but often poses the greatest challenge in the Middle East and North Africa. So is the fact that transitional authorities often inherit weak, hollowed out institutions that need to be rebuilt to undergird the transition to politically, economically and socially more equitable governance.

The King Is Dead, Long Live The King

Protest is back on the front burner several years after revolts in the Middle East and North Africa were largely either squashed or reversed or disintegrated into civil wars, and protests elsewhere lost steam and fizzled out. In the past year, protesters have occupied streets in cities ranging from Hong Kong, Santiago de Chile, La Paz, Port-au-Prince, Paris and Moscow to Khartoum, Algiers, Amman, Beirut and Baghdad. This time round, the most immediate difference from the 2011 protests is the demand for systemic change rather than a simple replacement of government, and the resilience of protesters in sticking to their guns and maintaining control of the street until a transition process is in place.

When protest over the past decade did not erupt onto streets, it was embedded in culture wars that continue to wrack countries like the United States (Hunter, 2017), Germany (Imam, 2019) and India (Dutt, 2018), the result of the struggle between liberals and mainstream conservatives on one side of the divide, and, populists, extreme nationalists and far-right wingers on the other. These culture wars, like the protests, reflect an existential fear that changing demographics, technological change and responses to climate change are either further pushing groups to the margins of society in an inequitable political and economic system, or about to do so.

At the core of the protests themselves is a clamour for transparent, accountable rule delivering public goods and services, even if some are framed as battles for environmental and economic issues and against corruption rather than for democracy, or in terms of nationalism, racism and opposition to migration. The sparks differ from country to country. As does the political environment. And the stakes at various stages of the game vary.

Yet, the fundamental drivers are universal.

In 2019 Algeria and Sudan, the protests have been about an end to corrupt autocracy and more inclusive rule (Bellaloufi & Vincenot, 2019; Magdy, 2019). In Kashmir, the rub has been imposition of direct Indian rule and failure to ensure that the region benefits equitably from economic growth. In Russia, deteriorating standards of living and environmental degradation are drivers (Barber, 2019), while a younger generation in Hong Kong is rejecting Chinese encroachment in advance of incorporation into a totalitarian system (BBC News, 2019).

The different motivations notwithstanding, the protests, then and now, and the rise of civilisationalism [which argues that a country represents not just a historic territory or a particular language or ethnic-group, but a distinctive civilisation (Rachman, 2019)], populism, and racial and religious supremacism, aided by fearmongering by ideologues and opportunistic politicians (Mehta, 2019), are two sides of the same coin: a global collapse of confidence in incumbent systems and leadership. The various experiences in different parts of the world suggest that the political struggles underlying the protests are long rather than short-term battles that likely will continue to be fought on and off the street.

Revolts In Waiting

These divisions also suggest that it is only a matter of time before other powder kegs experience explosions of mounting public discontent. Iran erupted in November 2019 with mass protests against fuel price hikes that in some cases evolved into demands for systemic change (Daragahi, 2019). Fuel prices similarly fuelled anger and protests in government-controlled areas of Syria.

“Is it so difficult to be transparent and forward? Would that undermine anyone’s prestige? We are a country facing sanctions and boycotted. The public knows and is aware,” laments Syria is Here, an anonymous Facebook page that reports on economics in government-controlled areas. London-based Syrian journalist Danny Makki, who travels to Syria regularly, has warned that the country is “a pressure cooker” (El Deeb, 2019).

Similarly, authorities in Egypt were unable to stop an online petition against proposed constitutional amendments that could extend the rule of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi until 2034 from attracting hundreds of thousands of signatures despite blocking its website. The petition, entitled Batel or Void, prompted the government to block some 34,000 websites in a bid to prevent it from becoming an opposition rallying point, according to Netblocks, a group mapping web freedom (Netblocks, 2019).

Protests erupted months later when Mohamed Ali, an Egyptian businessman, actor and former Egyptian defence ministry contractor who lives in voluntary exile in Spain, posted videos on his Facebook page that went viral, accusing Al-Sisi and his government of corruption and the theft of millions from the country’s budget for luxury investments and illicit business. Ali’s allegations resonated in a country where, according to Egypt’s Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), 32.5 percent of the population lives below the poverty line (Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, 2019). The protests were brutally squashed. However, researchers Alessia Melcangi and Giuseppe Dentice (2019) caution:

The protests have… shown that stability in Egypt should not be taken for granted and that the economy plays a fundamental role. In fact, Egypt’s economy is gradually developing at the macro-economic level…. The Egyptian people have not benefited from this positive trend and have grown increasingly frustrated in recent years due to government-imposed austerity measures, cutbacks in the subsidy system…. These measures have produced anger, frustration, and discontent among broad sections of the population, which could lead to the emergence of protests coming from the most disadvantaged classes.

The protests as well as multiple powder kegs pinpoint the fragility of hopes of Middle Eastern autocrats that China’s model of successfully growing the economy, creating jobs and opportunity, and delivering public goods coupled with increased political control and suppression of rights, could prove to be a sustainable model in their own backyard. The fragility is enhanced by the tendency of autocrats to overreach in ways that distract from their core goals (Dorsey, 2019c).

Retaining Street Power

Across the globe, the evolution of protesters’ demands, from regime change during the 2011 popular revolts to systemic change in the 2019 uprisings, constitutes a far more fundamental attack on crony capitalist illiberal and autocratic rule and economic systems perceived as inequitable. In the Middle East and North Africa, it amounts to an assault on a repressive security state, challenging the system’s key pillars: institutionalised nepotism, corruption and exploitation of sectarian, ethnic and tribal differences to position the state as the key distributor of benefits in exchange for loyalty.

The region’s rankings illustrate the regimes’ failure. Sixteen of the world’s 21 Arab countries ranked below the global mean of 43 on a 0 to 100 scale on Transparency International’s 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index (Fatafta, 2018). The World Bank has suggested that politically connected firms enjoy economic privileges in various Middle Eastern nations, hampering the growth of younger, smaller firms that should act as engines of job creation (World Bank, 2015).

The six energy-rich Gulf monarchies account for more than half of the Arab world’s combined gross domestic product (GDP) despite making up only 15 percent of its population (Bahout & Cammack, 2019). Yet evolving demographics, technological change, greater connectivity, globalisation, and changing energy markets mean that their wealth and social contracts offering cradle-to-grave welfare states no longer enable them to create enough jobs and opportunities or ensure equitable macro- economic management. Rulers have no choice but to embrace the risk of economic diversification and social change.

Meeting protesters’ demands and aspirations that drive the demonstrations across the region irrespective of whether grievances have spilled into streets is what makes economic and social reform tricky business for autocratic rulers in the Middle East and North Africa. It is where what is needed for reform to have a sustainable effect bounces up against ever more repressive security states intent on exercising increasingly tight control.

Sustainable reform requires capable and effective institutions rather than bloated, bureaucratic job banks, and decentralisation with greater authorities granted to municipalities and regions. Altering social contracts by introducing or increasing taxes, reducing subsidies for basic goods and narrowing opportunities for government employment will have to be buffered by greater transparency that provides the public insight into how the government ensures that the people benefit from the still evolving new social contract.

A 2019 annual survey of Arab youth concerns about their future suggest that the region’s autocracies have yet to deliver expected public services and goods (ASDA’A BCW, 2019a). The survey also indicate that youth attribute greater importance to jobs and social freedoms than political rights, a sentiment that could prove to be tricky for autocrats attempting to square the circle between the requirements of reform and youth expectations.

A majority of youth surveyed, weaned on decades of reliance on government for jobs and social services, believe that their governments had unilaterally rewritten social contracts and rolled back aspects of the cradle-to-grave welfare state without delivering tangible benefits. Even more problematic for autocratic reformers, youth expect governments to be the provider at a time when reform requires streamlining of bureaucracies, reduced state control, and stimulation of the private sector.

A whopping 78 percent of those surveyed believe it is the government’s responsibility to provide jobs. An equal number expect energy to be subsidized, with 65 percent complaining that governments are not doing enough to support young families while 60 percent expect government to supply housing. By the same token, 78 percent are concerned about the quality of education on offer, including 70 percent of those in the Gulf.

In a White Paper accompanying the survey, Afshin Molavi, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, concludes that the survey shows that “the demands and dreams of young Arabs are neither radical nor revolutionary” and that they are unlikely to “to fall for the false utopias or ‘charismatic’ leaders their parents fell for”.

Also contributing to the White Paper, Jihad Azour, the International Monetary Fund’s top Middle East official, argues that “what is needed is a new social contract between MENA (Middle East and North Africa) governments and citizens that ensures accountability, transparency and a commitment to the principle that no one is left behind…. The latest youth survey makes clear that we have a long way to go” (ASDA’A BCW, 2019b).

The challenge protesters and youth pose in the Middle East reinforces the need to retain street power until the structures of a transition process and the power-sharing arrangements that undergird it are firmly in place. This is reinforced by the fact that many of the 2019 revolts in the Middle East and beyond have been initiated by activists operating beyond the confines of established political groupings and non-governmental organisations. Often viewed as leaderless, the activists organise through networks that rely on social media for their communications.

What demonstrators in the Middle East and North Africa have going for them, beyond the power of the street, is the fact that popular discontent is not the only thing that mitigates against maintenance of the pre-protest status quo. Countries across the region, characterised by youth bulges (Dorsey, 2019a), can no longer evade economic reform that addresses widespread youth unemployment, the need to create large numbers of jobs, and inevitable diversification and streamlining of bloated government bureaucracies.

Algeria is a case in point. Foreign exchange reserves have dropped from US$193.6 billion in 2014 (CEIC, 2019) to US$72 billion in 2019 (APS Online, 2019). Reserves cover 13 months of imports at best in a country that imports 70 percent of what it consumes (Ghanem and Benderra, 2019). “If the state can no longer deliver goods and services, socio-economic discontent will rise further,” notes Algeria scholar Dalia Ghanem. She recommends that to avoid such a situation, the state and its citizens renegotiate their relationship. “In the past the state provided, and Algerians abided. This is no longer economically feasible today, nor is it what Algerians appear to want as they seek more transparency, less corruption, and better governance of Algeria’s resources” (Ghanem, 2019).

Attention in the years since the 2011 popular Arab revolts has focussed on the consequences of the Saudi-UAE led counterrevolution that brutally rolled back protesters’ achievements in Egypt and contributed to the Iranian-backed military campaign of Houthi rebels in Yemen and the devastating subsequent military intervention in that country as well as civil wars in Syria and Libya.

Yet, the past eight years have also been characterised by issue-oriented protests (Dorsey, 2015) that often involved new, creative forms of expressions of discontent (Dorsey, 2018). They were often driven by groups most affected by governments’ failure to deliver, like in Iraq where jobless university graduates and those who returned from defeating the Islamic State found themselves deprived of opportunities (Dixon, 2019).

Protests’ New Politics

The need to cater to youth aspirations should have been clear once Tunisian fruit vendor Mohamed Bouazizi’s suicide on the doorsteps of a governor’s office in December 2010 went viral and sparked the 2011 Arab revolts. His was a cry for justice, freedom and economic opportunity, an act of desperation in the face of humiliation, a shout for dignity that resonated across the Middle East and North Africa and beyond. From Sao Paulo to Istanbul and from New York to Cairo, the outcry is against the indignity of crony capitalism and neo-liberalism which ensure that rules are rigged in favour of elites to the disadvantage of the middle classes.

Writing on the basis of a 2019 workshop on Arab youth politics, scholars Sean Yom, Marc Lynch, and Wael al-Khatib (2019) conclude:

[P]olitically, many have matured in an era where opposition parties, professional syndicates, and other registered entities long framed by outsiders as the vanguard of change have failed to perturb autocratic political orders. As the Arab Spring showed, spontaneous grassroots movements can topple the bulwarks of dictatorship in ways that complex NGOs and bureaucratized opposition cannot, given the latter’s dependence upon state recognition and international funding. Socially, many tend to prize mobilizational networks that center not upon a single set of leaders or elite authority, but rather atomistic connections between protesters sewn together by common defiance of authority or shared pursuit of an issue.

Operating beyond the confines of existing organisational structures has, however, proven to be a double-edged sword. It often produced relatively quick success like in the 2011 Arab revolts in which seemingly entrenched leaders such as Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, and Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh were toppled within a matter of weeks. Surrender of the street immediately after the toppling, however, enabled vested interests and counterrevolutionary forces to exclude the activists from the post-revolt political process and, with the exception of Tunisia, to ultimately reverse their achievements.

Protesters moreover were often unprepared for transition, having only vague notions of the nuts and bolts of what a more sustainable and equitable economic system would entail. “The road to overturn the system is very long. There is a need to channel demands from the streets into structures and unions (old or newly emergent) and, most importantly, to not fall into the trap of…violence,” advises Lebanese scholar Jamil Mouawad (2019).

The jury remains out on the second wave of protests sweeping through the Middle East in 2019. So far, protesters not only in Middle Eastern countries – Lebanon, Algeria and Iraq – but also across the globe in Chile, Hong Kong and elsewhere appear to have learnt the lessons of 2011 in terms of both retaining street power and not allowing demonstrations to be hijacked by government provocations or militants willing to engage in armed violence beyond escalations involving stone, brick and Molotov cocktail-throwing and damaging attacks on public buildings and commercial sites. Sudan, where protesters stood their ground despite a crackdown that in one day cost the lives of some 100 people (CNN, 2019), is so far the prime validation of the protesters’ strategy.

Protesters only surrendered the Sudanese street in September 2019, five months after President Omar al-Bashir was forced to step down, once a transition process body had been agreed and a transitional sovereign council made up of civilians and the military was in place (Reuters, 2019). While most protests in 2019 appear to be leaderless, rejecting any and all elites, demonstrators in Sudan rallied around the Sudanese Professional Association (SPA), a network of banned unions, that anchored the protests and shaped demands at every stage of the revolt (Amin, 2019). It remains to be seen whether that is why Sudan achieved an agreed transition process while other protest movements that have forced the resignation of a leader still struggle to ensure that their demands for fundamental change are met.

More Than A Lesson Learnt

Protesters’ resilience is, nevertheless, more than one lesson learnt from the 2011 revolts. In tactical terms, it is fuelled by another lesson learnt: don’t trust militaries, even if they seemingly align themselves with demonstrators. Distrust of the military prompted an increasing number of Sudanese protesters to question whether chanting “the people and the army are one” was appropriate.

More fundamentally, protesters’ resilience also reflects a widespread sentiment among youth that theirs is a generational window of opportunity that will close as they grow older. That realization alongside a sense of nothing to lose in the face of lack of opportunity is what fuels the now-or-never character of the protests, emboldens protesters to hold their ground despite security force violence, and motivates them to ensure that promises are implemented before they allow public life to return to normal.

It is a picture that repeats itself across the globe with protests driven by the same fundamental distrust of systems and government and leadership and groping for more equal distribution of wealth and opportunity. In a recent commentary on Latin America, Alicia Barcena, the executive secretary of the United Nations’ Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, notes that “inequality is the main cause of the disenchantment being felt by citizens throughout the region in the face of a stunned political establishment yet to understand that the current development model is unsustainable” (Barcena, 2019). She could have been speaking about the Middle East and North Africa, Russia, Georgia or in many aspects, Hong Kong too.

In many ways, the protests are likely to prove to be a success irrespective of whether they succeed in toppling leaders and/or changing political and economic systems. The protesters’ ability to maintain street power for significant periods of times almost by definition broadens public awareness of issues, influences the political agenda, and changes public discourse. In doing so, they force governments to redefine the legitimacy of their grip on power and justify it in terms of delivery of public goods for which, at least in the court of public opinion, they are held accountable.

Based on extensive on-the-ground-reporting, scholar Dina el-Sharnouby (2019), has concluded that protesters’ resilience is driven by a determination to force power sharing rather than a desire to replace one party holding power with another. As a result, it is a politics in which the importance of having an iconic leader or a clearly defined ideology is significantly reduced. Instead, it involves alliances, concepts of mobilisation that transcend political and ideological divisions and acceptance of multiple leaders with very different worldviews.

“Such a conception requires a new type of thinking and practicing of revolutionary politics… It suggests the rise of a new youth politics that is more inclusionary and revolves around the question of how to share political power“, El-Sharnouby says. Effectively arguing that technological advances, including the power of social media, as well as globalisation, have changed political landscapes, she describes the wave of protests as in “search of a new politics of inclusion and new ways of organizing the masses” (El-Sharnouby, 2019).

El-Sharnouby’s analysis sheds further light on protesters’ refusal to rush into elections once their immediate goal of toppling a leader or initiating a process of structural change has been achieved. Elections in post-20ll Arab nations such as Egypt and Tunisia demonstrated that without a period of structural political reforms, polls reinforce the position of traditional political forces, whether the military or political groupings, rather than create space for the sharing of power with the protesters who opened the door to change.

“The challenge for the political subjects of the Arab revolts is…to find ways of organizing a…movement while contesting electoral democracy to open the way for a new form of democracy putting forward new conditions for sharing power meaningfully,”, El-Sharnouby writes. The Sudanese protesters, “instead of striving for unity in which differences are suppressed because of a particular ideology or a hero figure that can bring about change…strove for unity in diversity, acknowledging and uniting the many leaders of the revolution” (El-Sharnouby, 2019).

A Tug Of War

Most protests that, unlike in Sudan, do not rally around an organisational unit, have yet to translate initial success into institutionalised processes of change. If anything, the protests have often turned into competitions to determine who has the longer breath – the protesters or the vested interests- backed incumbent government.

In Algeria, Lebanon and Iraq, countries in which the leader was either forced to resign or agreed to step down, the authorities appear to be dragging their feet on handovers of power or agreed transitional power sharing arrangements in the hope that protesters determined to hold on to their street power until a political transition process is firmly in place either lose their momentum or are racked by internal differences. Reticent governments are also betting on the fact that the 2019 protesters do not enjoy the broad-based international empathy that their 2011 counterparts witnessed.

The current cohort of protesters, moreover, are potentially up against a more powerful array of external forces. In addition to conservative Gulf states Saudi Arabia and the UAE, powers like Russia and China have made no bones about their rejection of protest as an expression of political will. So has Iran with much at stake in Iraq and Lebanon, countries where anti-sectarian sentiment is strong among protesters, even if the Islamic republic itself was born in one of the 20th century’s epic popular revolts.

Seeking to exploit mounting doubts in various parts of the world about the reliability of the United States as an ally as a result President Donald J. Trump’s transactional approach towards America’s allies and foreign policy flip flops, Russia backed by China, has as part of its stabilisation effort in the wake of its intervention in Syria proposed to replace the US defence umbrella in the Gulf with a multilateral security arrangement. “Russia is seeking stability which includes preventing colour revolutions”, says Maxim Grigoryev, director of the Moscow-based Foundation for the Study of Democracy, using the term Moscow employs to describe popular revolts in countries that once were part of the Soviet Union. Echoing Kremlin policy, Grigoryev describes Syria as “a model of stabilizing a regime and countering terrorism” (Dorsey, 2019b).

Russian military intervention in Syria has helped President Bashar al-Assad gain the upper hand in a more than eight-year-long brutal war in which the Syrian government has been accused of committing crimes against humanity. Russia has denied allegations that its air force has repeatedly targeted hospitals and other civil institutions (Hill and Treibert, 2019).

Russia’s experience in Syria as well as in Ukraine appears to be guiding a more overt Russian role in Libya in the second half of 2019; Moscow had initially provided covert financial and tactical support to a militia led by would be strongman Khalifa Haftar. Some 200 Russian mercenaries, among them a substantial number of snipers, started making their mark in the civil war that erupted in the wake of the 2011 toppling of Libyan leader Moammar Ghaddafi (Kirkpatrick, 2019). The mercenary presence should be seen in the light of a Rand study of Russia’s intervention in Syria as well as earlier interventions in Libya, Afghanistan and Yemen that suggests Russia could again interfere short of direct military engagement. Intervention in Libya “promises a high level of geopolitical benefit for Moscow”, the Rand report concludes (Charap, Treyger, & Geist, 2019).

The reported presence of mercenaries and the report came on the back of two visits by Haftar to Moscow in the last three years as well as a widely publicised visit to Russia’s only aircraft carrier when it was stationed off Libya’s shores. Russia moreover reportedly supplied some 4.5 billion Libyan dinars ($3.22 billion) in newly printed banknotes to Haftar’s parallel central bank in the eastern city of Benghazi. The bills were sent in four shipments in the first half of 2019.

Similarly, documents leaked to The Guardian (Harding and Burke, 2019) and MHK Media (Popkov, 2019), a Russian-language news website, by the London-based Dossier Centre, an investigative group funded by exiled Russian businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky, have disclosed Russia’s behind-the-scenes role in Sudan in seeking to thwart the protesters. Laying out plans to bolster Russia’s position across Africa by building relations with rulers, striking military deals, and grooming a new generation of leaders and undercover agents, the documents include details of a campaign to smear anti-government protesters.

The plan for the campaign appeared to have been copy-pasted from proposals to counter opposition in Russia to President Vladimir Putin with references to Russia mistakenly not having been replaced with Sudan in one document. It advised the Sudanese military to use fake news and videos to portray demonstrators as anti-Islamic, pro-Israeli and pro- LGBT. The plan also suggested increasing the price of newsprint to make it harder for critics to get their message out and to discover “foreigners” at anti- government rallies.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, a St. Petersburg-based businessman and close associate of Putin, complained in a letter to Bashir before the Sudanese leader was overthrown that he was not following Prigozhin’s advice and adopting an “extremely cautious position”. Prigozhin, who was indicted by US special counsel Robert Mueller for operating a troll factory that ran an extensive social media campaign that favoured Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, was according to the documents, a key player in efforts to enhance Russian influence in Africa and counter Sudanese protests.

Ironically, despite China’s insistence that it does not interfere in the domestic affairs of others and does things differently and is less heavy-handed than the United States, Beijing has opted to take its aggressive domestic anti-graft campaign international in a bid to address grievances driving protests or at least to ensure that it does not become a target. To achieve that, China has begun embedding inspectors from China’s top anti-corruption body, the Communist party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, in Belt and Road projects in recipient countries (Weinland, 2019). The move helps China counter allegations that it exploits corruption in recipient Belt and Road countries to further its objectives (Stratfor, 2018).

The Day After

Retaining street power has proven to be a sine qua non for getting from A to B. In many ways, it is when the protesters and reformers’ real challenges, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, kick in. Vested domestic interests as well as their external backers benefit from the fact that the state that the protesters and reformers want to reform is a house of cards populated by hollowed out institutions. “Authoritarianism has become the only glue keeping them together,” notes scholar, diplomat and activist Ezzedine C. Fishere. Arab authoritarianism has “morphed into a complex strategy to cope with state weakness,” he says, adding:

To repress social and political conflicts [Arab states] could not resolve and to silence demands they could not meet, Arab regimes turned to coercion… Gradually, regime survival became the overriding concern of these agencies, eroding respect for the rule of law and making human rights abuses common. This led to the further hollowing out of state institutions, now glued together by systematically administered fear” (Fishere, 2019).

The emergence of the Arab security state may be the extreme end of the spectrum, but the problems it confronts are in many ways no different from those challenging governments across the globe. “People are angry at their political systems,” says James Bosworth, a Latin America-focused analyst. “There’s an anti-incumbent wave and governments haven’t dealt with the roots of the problem, and those problems aren’t going away. [Neither is] anger at the political systems… In many ways, governments are trapped. There will be more protests, and they’ll be more violent in 2020” (Cancel, 2019).

This article was reprinted with the author’s permission

Source: This article originally appeared at The Home Team Journal, Issue 9, February 2020 (PDF) pp 144-152, published by Singapore’s The Home Team Volunteer Network (HTVN).

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James M. Dorsey

James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.

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