2019’s fierce protests against national governments begs comparison to 2011’s year of Arab Spring and 1989’s Eastern Europeans’ rebellion against Russian-backed communist tyrannies.
Yet 2019’s assorted civil ructions are demonstrably more global and more transcultural than 2011’s and 1989’s largely regional uprisings.
One common grievance unites every single case of 2019 civil ruction and unrest: deep disgust with government and political-elite corruption.
Of course, local gripes with deep roots (some traceable to the 19th century) stirred 2019’s turbulence. In some instances, challenged governments negotiated with dissenters and proposed reforms. In others, marches continue amid political gridlock. In the worst cases, sporadic violence edging toward civil war continues.
Here are some of the more noteworthy examples of 2019’s civil strife. The list is by no means complete.
Hong Kong: This asymmetric confrontation between a pro-democracy enclave and a powerful totalitarian state rates as 2019’s most remarkable and significant rebellion. The city’s first major 2019 demonstration commemorated 1989’s Tiananmen Square massacre. Then, demonstrations protesting an obvious and noxious corruption began: Beijing’s communists are slowly reneging on the Sino-British Declaration of 1984 that assured Hong Kong’s democratic autonomy until 2047.
Hong Kong’s citizens demand liberal freedoms and wave American flags, giving the lie to the communist propaganda line that America is an evil global predator. Hong Kong’s evident distrust of Beijing shames Chinese President Xi Jinping, so this conflict is not resolved.
Sudan: The unrest escalated in January. In April, protests organized by a pro-freedom coalition toppled President (dictator) Omar al-Bashir. A massacre in early June by pro-military forces killed several hundred protestors. Subsequent negotiations established a sovereign council, a transitional governing structure serving until elections are held in about three years. So far the civilian prime minister is bridging the evident divisions between pro-democratic sovereign council members and military officers once loyal to Bashir.
Bolivia: Protests alleging vote fraud erupted after the Oct. 20 presidential election. When socialist then-President Evo Morales claimed he had won a fourth term in office, the Organization of American States supported the allegations that his corrupt regime had stolen the election. When police in several major cities refused to support his regime, Morales resigned on Nov. 10. An interim government runs the country, but the situation is tense.
Venezuela: Though his regime has destroyed the country economically, socialist dictator Nicolas Maduro remains president. In January, after Maduro claimed victory in a crooked election, Venezuelan Democrats aided by the U.S. and other international allies launched an effort to delegitimize Maduro and recognize National Assembly leader Juan Guaido as president. The politics, diplomacy and economic maneuvering were an intricate attempt to use nonmilitary elements of power to remove Maduro. But Maduro maintained control by hook and crook, using bribery, intimidation and repression by his Cuban and Russian-advised security forces. Now he is trying to rig the January 2020 vote to deny Guaido reelection to the National Assembly. However, U.S. and international economic sanctions have placed an economic noose around his neck.
Iran: Iran’s endless demonstrations began in December 2017 when angry citizens began publicly denouncing two blatantly linked injustices: their nation’s acute economic deterioration and the clerical dictatorship’s hideous corruption. This November, the dictatorship’s fuel-price increase brought thousands to the streets. An estimated 230 Iranians have died in demonstrations since mid-November — the most serious bloodletting since 2009.
Iraq: Anti-corruption protests began in October. Countrywide pro-reform demonstrations protested government incompetence, endemic corruption and unemployment. The demonstrators — who were overwhelmingly Shiite Arabs — excoriated the national government for failing to confront Iranian troublemaking in Iraq. Violent clashes with security forces in November and continued demonstrations forced the prime minister to resign. Now demonstrators accuse Iranian-backed Shiite militias of attempting to sabotage the reform movement. Iraq’s Sunni Arabs and Kurds despise the Shiite-dominated government’s corruption but have apparently decided to let the Shiites confront the problems largely created by Shiite leaders and pro-Iranian actors. The Iraqi demonstrations have, since Oct. 1, left an estimated 500 dead and 18,000 injured. This situation is far from resolved.
Austin Bay’s latest book, “Cocktails from Hell: Five Wars Shaping the 21st Century” (Bombardier Books), is available now.