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December 15, 2019
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Is the world entering into an era of protests?

It seems half of the world is already grappling with protests, sit-ins and demonstrations against increasing fuel prices, corruption, injustice, lack of healthcare and food, freedom of expression and climate change policies. A few of the protests have also resulted in a change in regimes across the globe.

From Europe to Central Asia, the peaceful protests, on the eve of New Year, entered into violent clashes and riots claiming scores of lives.

What is worth interesting to know of all these protests is that they were leaderless protests. However, in this case, Pakistan is an exception to these global changes and trends.
Famous streets around the world witnessed that people were rising up for their rights.

Why protest?
Protests have remained a very instrumental form of raising public voices when political leaders turn a deaf ear to the public grievances. A protest projects the true opinion of ordinary people. It creates awareness, empowers the marginalised segment of society and holds the people in the power corridors accountable.

History has it that protests brought revolutions in the world. From the Boston Tea Party to the fall of the Berlin Wall, it changed the political and economic landscape of countries. It is a natural phenomenon that when people express their opinions at variance with those in social or economic power, they resort to the outcry to lift their voices.

France
Liberté, egalité, fraternité (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity)

Europe is caught in a downward spiral with increasing prices, power outages, food scarcity, labour policies and high cost of living. It seems after an ‘Arab Spring’, a ‘Europe Spring’ is in the offing. Europeans vow to stand against the status quo. In this case, France has always remained at the forefront due to unending protests staged by its citizens over varied issued.

This time, France is wracked with chaos. Protesters, including young students, marched towards the main streets of Paris in April this year to resist against an increase in fuel tax. Motorists and car drivers were directed to wear luminous jackets while on roads and the Yellow Vests movement became a symbol of resistance and protest which paralysed much of the country with road blockades and street protests in Paris and other cities.

Interestingly, the Blue Vest and Red Scarves emerged to counter the Yellow Vest movement because the latter believed that that the Yellow Vest caused much chaos and unrest in the country and they came with the slogan like “enough” “end the violence”. This led to clashes between the Yellow Vest and the Blue Vest and Red Scarves. The clashes still continue unabated.

The movement that started in February this year has entered into its 11th week across the country and nearly 30,000 people ticked the box #RepublicanMarchForFreedom, demanding the resignation of French President Emmanuel Macron. France is facing an economic crisis. People are infuriated over exploitative class difference as a quarter of people has income higher than the rest of the population.

Venezuela
No+ Dictadura (No more Dictatorship)

With the start of a new year, Venezuela witnessed a ruthless hike in prices that bewildered the people of one of the richest oil producing countries. People are furious about the economic policies of newly elected president Nicolas Maduro. The country witnessed the highest inflation rate in history. According to Venezuelan Cafe Con Leche Index, the inflation went up to 80,000%.

How would you feel while entering into one of the cafeterias of the country with the price tag of coffee reaching up to 170,000 Venezuelan bolívar from just 0.45 bolivar in just two months?

This dramatic situation brought millions of people to take to the streets against the government. From the start of the New Year up till now, the protests continue unabated and have turned into violent clashes between police and people.

Sudan
Just Fall! !تسقط بس

The people of Sudan have been grappling with persistent protests and outcries until the self-proclaimed president Omar al-Bashir stepped down. Protesters gathered from different part of the country to oust the dictator clinging to power for decades.

Teachers, students, labourers, pharmacist and shopkeepers took to the streets to raise their voice against tyranny and unfair economic policies.

Staggering inflation and unemployment dragooned people into a march. Started in the last month of the year, the protest culminated in a die-in situation until al-Bashir resigned voluntarily.

Sudan is the least developed country with more than 45% of people living below the poverty line and like Pakistan; the literacy rate is 58%. But when it comes to ‘rights’ Sudanese are nonpareil. Amidst hundred-degree temperature people from multiple cities took to streets to question the authorities about racketeering prices, unemployment and absolute power. When thousands of people gathered at capital Khartoum under the leadership of 22-year-old engineering student Aala Salah with slogan ‘Girfina’ which means “we are fed up”, it jostled the people in the upper echelon. Since then Salah is symbolised with protest in ‘New Sudan’.

Iran
A new wave of protests

Iran is entering into a new phase of uprising and resistance. Teachers, lawyers, young students and most importantly the women took to the streets to speak up against the revolutionary regime.
Despite the harsh response from the state, the protests gained momentum and the people started assembling in Tehran. On the other hand, the White Wednesdays campaign led by Masoumeh Alinejad-Ghomi encouraged women to remove their headscarves on Wednesdays or wear white shawls as a sign of protest. These protests in Iran are a sign of a new wave of change that has perturbed the authorities.

How do people in Pakistan respond to protests?
A million-dollar question arises that what ails Pakistani society from not taking to the streets. Despite skyrocketing prices of essentials, corruption, frequent power outages, shortage of food and medicines, law and order situation and list goes on and on, people hardly take to streets to express their disapproval of the injustice. It is not a matter of financial constraints as the country is still far better than many African states.

When do they gather?
The majority of people in Pakistan is so divided into culture, rigid caste system and language that it seems that one man’s issues are another man’s opportunity. There are people who usually work as ‘paid protesters’ hired by politicians to show their political muscle.

If we look back through the annals of history, rarely have we seen mass protests where people have gathered on genuine issues such as corruption, injustice and civil rights. The only podium where people could gather on a frequent basis is inside a mosque. This is very unfortunate that such weekly grand gatherings are misconstrued as only religious rituals. A man who delivers a religious sermon can also speak up against injustice and corruption and mobilise people to rise against inequalities and malpractices in society. In fact, a pulpit could better replace a press club to raise voice against social evils.

Who are genuine protesters?
It is difficult to figure out. But forgoing all protests and strikes in view, the default answer to this question is that all protests are orchestrated by religious and political leaders without keeping in view the larger interest of people or reforms in policies.

Protests can be termed people’s power. It is a force to reckon with. It is not a bad thing if it is meant for a peaceful demonstration to bring social or economic change for the very interest of the people. The genuine democracy lies in respecting the voice of people rather than suppressing it.