Recent weeks and months have seen an uptick in people across the globe taking to the streets to voice discontent with their governments. In Latin America and the Arab world we have witnessed a particularly high number of protests, and while political contexts differ between countries, these outbursts have more in common than you might think.
From rising public transport prices to proposed tax rises and subsidy cuts, austerity measures have been at the heart of citizens’ anger in a number of countries. In many cases, this has been compounded by corruption that has benefitted the few, while leaving the vast majority behind.
Especially in Arab countries, people have lost patience with their governments’ failure to meet demands for more democratic rights made during the Arab Spring almost a decade ago. Engrained government corruption, oppressive state control and gross disregard of human rights have led to a very low public tolerance for further austerity measures.
In Lebanon, a ‘Whatsapp-tax’ was the last straw that set off massive protests last week. The Lebanese government should act fast to implement systemic anti-corruption reforms. In Iraq, renewed protests today have already turned deadly.
In Chile, steady economic growth has not translated into higher standards of living for everyone — unequal wealth distribution and expensive access to public services like health and education have been fuelling social discontent for a long time. Protesters’ anger is also directed at the Carabineros, the national police force with a reputation for brutality that has been making headlines with corruption scandals.
The question is whether leaders will listen to citizens’ demands or continue along the same paths. Shallow reforms will not satisfy citizens tired of corruption and inequality, and will most likely only postpone the next outpouring of public anger.
Above all, governments must respect the right to peaceful protest, and engage constructively with emerging civil society movements.
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