The audacity: A tale of Protests & Power

The audacity: A tale of Protests & Power


Imagine this: 

You are a member of the ruling family in a small island nation. Your family has ruled the country with an iron fist for over 3 decades now; you have a band of loyal supporters, impressive achievements to display, a strong grip over administration and are revered by many as the savior of the country. All goody-good. And then, one fine day, people come out on the streets demanding your head. They hold you and your family responsible for the turmoil in their lives, and then, you are gone. Ousted from power; divested of any authority- political or otherwise. 


Suppose this, you are the octogenarian theocratic dictator of a deeply religious nation with a medieval set of values. You are supremely charismatic, and hold absolute sway over the country. You are beyond reproach and criticism, something of a big brother; an unapproachable chimera. And then, a woman dies.

A mere “Kurdish” girl- an ethnic minority and a second-class citizen. The entire nation erupts. There are protests everywhere, people chanting slogans and defiantly breaking your dictates. They are wishing death upon you and your regime. You panic; issue warnings, execute people, start repressing the protests with all your might, and you fail. The protestors are ever more defiant;  you are weak… and the world watches on. 

For the uninitiated, the part above is a work of fiction. A fairy tale where good triumphs over evil and then there is a happily ever after. But for the Rajapakshas and Ayatollahs of the world, it is the bane of their existence.   

Not marble nor the gilded monuments 

As this year comes to wind, it has turned out to be a lot different than what it was supposed to be. Turning away from Schmittian barbarism of politically expedient violence, this year has turned to be a harbinger of hope and democracy. Protests have happened far and wide; from Asia to Europe; from the developed world to the under-developed world; and from the high ideals of freedom to the lowly realities of life- prices of fuel, food & gas.

The women in Iran fought for personal liberty and freedom, the populace in Sri Lanka against an overtly corrupt regime and a worn-out economy, the people of Brazil staved off an impending undemocratic dictator, and the people of Europe fought off a bitter winter and a threatening military power.

Though these protests and revolts happened in places far away from each other and theatres quintessentially singular, the one thing that brought all these people out on the streets was an impending sense of self-preservation stemming out of unmitigated economic woes. 

Anti-government protests reached a record high in 2022 as a result of rising public resentment over economic issues, particularly rising inflation. Data from the Global Protest Tracker of the Carnegie Endowment reveals that, in comparison to prior years, the number of economic protests, particularly those concerning inflation, increased.

In the majority of inflation-related demonstrations, disgruntled residents marched under the support of a labor union, trade association, left-wing party, or reform-supporting group that urged the government to address the more significant issues of low wages, inequality, or corruption. Wide-ranging government responses were demanded during these demonstrations, including increased financial assistance for the working class and the impoverished.

In a few instances, such as in the Czech Republic, Germany, and Moldova, demonstrators gathered under the banner of a right-wing party or coalition that urged the government to modify its pro-Ukraine stance, which they claimed is to blame for rising fuel costs and, as a result, increasing inflation.

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While most of the protests (especially, economic) were short-lived: half of them less than a week; a few like the ones in China, Iran, and Sri Lanka- persisted and shook the establishment.   

A Farman against the Cleric

It all began with the death of a Kurdish woman- Mhasa Amini. Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old lady, was detained by Iran’s morality police on September 13 for reportedly failing to properly cover her hair. Amini was violently beaten while in custody by the police, according to witnesses. Three days after her arrest, she passed away.

As word of Amini’s passing spread, Iranian women and girls started ripping off their hijabs in public and demonstrating in the streets. These adolescent girls and young women sparked protests all around the nation, attracting opposition protestors from all facets of Iranian culture. The government’s ruthless suppression of the protests, which has so far included public executions and the indiscriminate use of live bullets on dense crowds of protesters, has not yet been successful in quelling the unrest. 

“There was nothing wrong with what she was wearing.” She was entirely covered when she passed away, and I believe that is what is unsettling. That daughter could have been anyone’s mother, from any religious background or family, which is why I believe so many religious families are supporting the demonstrators- says Azadeh Moaveni, an Iranian-American journalist. 

While Mhasa s death serves as the catalyst, the miserable economic situation in Iran, which is the result of harsh sanctions imposed by the US and its allies as well as the regime’s determination to exert its influence in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and now Russia through the funding of proxy organizations and the export of weapons, is one of the main reasons why people are unsatisfied. People have little to lose and the motive to protest because unemployment is currently hovering around 11.5 percent.

The demonstrations in Iran highlight a different aspect of the information dilemma facing authoritarian regimes: their inability to spot brewing issues and change course before a crisis. Societies are large and complex; determining what is wrong and how to fix it are very challenging jobs. The protests are a result of  “deep-rooted frustrations that many Iranian dissenters share,” primary among them, “this sense of being deprived of human rights and of the ability to participate effectively in shaping the political outlook of their country.” 

 The Iranian people have demonstrated that the government’s continuous miscalculation of their rage comes with severe repercussions, even while the regime may very well survive this most recent round of protests.

Communist Party vs the Community 

While the repressive, highly illogical, ineffective, and immensely unpopular ‘zero-covid policy’ had already begun to frustrate the masses in China, all hell broke loose on November 24. After a fire broke out in an apartment building in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang region, home to the brutally suppressed Uyghur Muslim minority, on November 24, things came to a climax. At least 10 individuals died while the building was under lockdown; many Chinese believe that number may have been lower if the authorities hadn’t restricted the occupants’ freedom of movement. 

Similar to Mahsa Amini’s passing in Iran, the fire in Urumqi catalyzed change. A wave of demonstrations rocked the nation when word got out. Additionally, those demonstrators did the hitherto inconceivable, accusing Xi of being responsible for the disaster in Urumqi and demanding elections to link their dissatisfaction with Covid policy to the government.

We don’t want a dictatorship. We want democracy. We don’t want a leader. We want to vote,” protesters chanted at a demonstration in Shanghai.

While the protests in China do not seem to affect a regime change as of now, they do constitute ominous signs for the country’s leadership. They reflect the Communist Party leadership’s failure to understand and act on popular sentiment. Repression and unwavering loyalty are a slippery slope to walk on, something the nation’s leadership will have to understand. 

Not everything’s right

While the resistance in Ukraine, the now sprouting women’s movement in Afghanistan, and the successful protests in Sri Lanka are encouraging signs, the threat to global democratic order is far from defeated.  The majority of governments in the world today, according to the study, are “electoral autocracies”—regimes with “institutions mimicking democracy but substantially falling below the bar for democracy in terms of authenticity or quality.”

The events of 2022 do not signal a change in the course of events. Democracy continues to face a serious long-term threat.

They do, however, demonstrate that there are also sizable sources of democratic resilience and authoritarian weakness, ones that are on exhibit in some of the world’s most powerful nations. At the very least, 2022 served as a reminder that restoring democracy is a decision, and that this year at least enough people chose it. 

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