The Age of Anger: what is fuelling protests around the world?

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What do Beirut, Barcelona, Hong Kong and Santiago have in common? All are experiencing mass anti-government protests, on a scale not seen since the 1960s. Riots in Islamabad, Pakistan, are the latest to join the list; on Sunday, Bolivian president Evo Morales was forced to resign after violent demonstrations in La Paz.

What do Beirut, Barcelona, Hong Kong and Santiago have in common

Civil unrest simmers on every continent of the globe. The countries experiencing mass protests vary geographically, developmentally and politically, and the final straws triggering public demonstrations are as diverse as the countries. In France, a hike in fuel prices sparked demonstrations; in Lebanon it was a tax on WhatsApp calls. Is there a common explanation for all of this anger?

In many cases, economic hardship – or the fear thereof – has caused unrest. Around the world, from Germany to China, countries have seen a slowdown in economic growth. The International Monetary Fund cut its estimation of Latin America’s economic output for the coming year from 1.4% to 0.6%. This global economic slowdown has been attributed to the unprecedented rise and spread of nationalism in recent years.

Civil unrest simmers on every continent of the globe

It is becoming clear that in our increasingly interconnected world, where the strawberries we eat for breakfast have been grown 500 miles away, and our trainers have more air miles than we do, nationalist trade policies are short-sighted, and a hindrance to overall economic growth. Economic discontent can certainly be named the primary cause of the current protests in Chile, Lebanon, France and the Netherlands.

However, protests of this kind did not occur a decade ago, when much of the world was at risk of falling into economic depression, and unemployment was far higher than in the present day. And economic uncertainty does not explain the violence in Spain, Hong Kong, Pakistan or Algeria. In these countries, frustration at political corruption and oppression is the motivation for protests.

Nevertheless, despite seemingly disparate causes for protests, there is a common theme running throughout: powerlessness.

There is a common theme running throughout: powerlessness

Even in historically respected democracies such as the UK, people increasingly feel that their votes are not being acted upon. This is best exemplified by the environmental movements Extinction Rebellion and School Strike for the Climate (aka Fridays for Future), which have gained traction astonishingly quickly.

Climate strikes have taken place around the world, in stable and unstable countries alike, and yet governments have taken shamelessly little notice. Climate change does not exclude any country, and mitigating its effects requires the action of all governments. It is here that individual powerlessness becomes most clear.

Image by Shahen Araboghlian via Wikimedia Commons

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