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Protests around the world reflect social truths

By James Rose - posted Wednesday, 17 August 2011

It's interesting and valuable to compare the demonstrations in the UK, with similar break-outs in Malaysia and in the Middle East, all of which have emerged in the several last months.

While these case studies are all characterised by mobilised youth railing against a leadership they feel is ignoring them, each has a specific personality which says a lot not only about cultural approaches to protest, but to where each sits in relation to the materialist hierarchy manifested in the post-globalised world.

From the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) to the Arab Spring (a misnomer as Iranians are also clamouring for change) and Tunisia, where the whole reform wave started.


There, a young man named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in protest at being denied access to street space for his vegetable stall. In light of the UK uprising, the nature of his extraordinary personal protest is telling. The difference between setting fire to oneself and setting fire to someone else's property should not be ignored.

The Arab Spring movement, while showing contempt for venal and corrupt leaders, has generally been characterised by a respect for social infrastructure. Protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square for instance set up their own mini-governments, organising street tidying teams once the sit-in had dispersed.

Elsewhere, things have turned nastier and in Libya and Syria for instance, civil war seems a not inappropriate term to use. But, in both cases, this direction was set by the reaction of authorities, not by a prevailing violent streak in the freedom movements themselves.

This basic respect for the social structure is reflected also in Malaysia.

In recent months, the Bersih2.0 movement has taken to the streets – using the now standard strategic triumvirate of Facebook, twitter and YouTube – to air their grievances over graft and various violations of the liberal, free market ideal.

Once again, it is evident there has been an underlying diffidence in relation to making a mark, and the belief that change can come only through peaceful means.


Turning back to England, where the violence is more provocative and the destruction more proactive than in any of the other examples around the world. Given that storefronts are being smashed, people are being accosted in restaurants and there is killing in the streets; the English protests have taken something of a different shape.

The disrespect for private or public property, the taunting of police and the ripples of savagery that these protests have displayed suggest a total disregard for social infrastructure.

One reason for that is because the infrastructure is weak or non-existent, at least not in terms of the Middle East or in Asia.

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James Rose is founder of the The Kick Project, an Australian football and development-based not-for-profit.

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