Back in the days of the Arab Spring, optimists predicted a bright future for democratic upheavals around the world. But the reality in places like Ukraine, Venezuela, Turkey, and Thailand is far messier.
MARCH 9, 2014
Ukraine isn’t the only country where protesters have been busy battling governments lately. In Venezuela, 18 people have been killed during weeks of big demonstrations against the administration of President Nicolás Maduro. In Turkey, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, having survived months of intense popular discontent, is fighting for his political life. And although the leader of the street protests in Thailand recently decided to end his supporters’ blockade of downtown Bangkok, the showdown there (which has taken the lives of at least 16 people) is far from over.
In some ways all of these rebellions look like extensions of the Arab Spring that started three years ago.
The same motives that drew protesters into Tahir Square and the streets of Tunis and Tripoli still loom large.
The same motives that drew protesters into Tahir Square and the streets of Tunis and Tripoli still loom large. Irate citizens are taking aim at corruption, economic mismanagement, and autocratic overreach -- the same factors that also prompted powerful mass protests last year in countries as diverse as Brazil, Cambodia, andBulgaria (all of which continue to this day in various forms). One might even include the remarkable opposition rallies in big cities around Russia in 2012 -- or perhaps the surprising people power movement that flared up in Bosnia last month. Are we witnessing, perhaps, an oft-predicted “contagion effect” -- the flowering of a new era of demands for democratic accountability?
That’s certainly possible. The mere fact that so many people in so many parts of the world have chosen to put their bodies (and in some cases their lives) on the line certainly suggests that citizens are far less content to unthinkingly accept whatever their leaders dish out. The speed with which information zooms around the world unquestionably plays an inspiring role: when you see big crowds of people on the evening news chanting slogans against their own governments, your first reaction is likely to be, “Why can’t we do that here?”
Take a closer look, though, and it soon becomes apparent that there’s a big gulf between today’s would-be revolutions and those that unfolded during the Arab Spring.
Take a closer look, though, and it soon becomes apparent that there’s a big gulf between today’s would-be revolutions and those that unfolded during the Arab Spring. The main difference involves the nature of the regimes that opposition movements are trying to combat. When people took to the streets in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia, they were opposing long-entrenched dictators. But the demonstrators in Turkey, Thailand, and Venezuela are fighting elected leaders who still have the backing of big segments of society. This was true in Ukraine as well.