Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 62, 8 April 2020

Global Protest Movements in 2020: CoronaVirus as the Black Swan
D Suba Chandran

In the news

A recent analysis titled "Coronavirus has crippled global protest movements" published during the last week in the Quartz looked at the status of protest movements in Algeria and Hong Kong to highlight how the protest movements across the world have plummeted. Published on 1 April, the above analysis underlines referring to a data published by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED): "In total, there were 452 protests worldwide last week, many of which took place on balconies, down from 1,519 in the first week of March."

A DW report titled, "Coronavirus: Arab uprisings struggle amid lockdown" published a few days earlier says, "longstanding uprisings that have brought down leaders from Lebanon to Iraq have largely left the streets as COVID-19 stifles public life."

Issues at large

During early February 2020, the National Institute of Advanced Studies organized a workshop on "Discontent in/of Democracy: The Rise of Global Protest Movements." The workshop focussed on protest movements in Latin America, Africa, Middle East, Europe, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. The workshop also focussed on the issue-based global protest movements, for example, gender and climate change.

When 2020 dawned, there were numerous big protest movements across the world, in the regions identified above. Some of these movements – for example in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) were aimed at good governance. The protest movements from Algeria to Iraq in the MENA region during 2019 also resulted in regime changes and the overthrow of the existing rulers. 

Some of these movements – from Lebanon to Hong Kong, were aimed at better governance and democracy. While the Hong Kong movement attracted more global coverage, there were other movements from Iraq to Chile, with the same demands. Some of these protest movements were emancipatory in nature where it provided a platform for women to take part in the public space and thereby take ownership – individually and collectively. For example, in the MENA and Latin American regions, there was a visible presence of the women in the protest movements with salutary efforts and results.

Some of these movements had a gender focus; in early March, there was a large protest movement in Mexico demanding a halt in violence against the women. The Guardian in its coverage wrote on the above movement as: "From factories along the Río Grande to businesses in the capital and offices in cities near the Guatemalan border, women and girls joined the unprecedented protest, billed as a Day without Women."

Some of the protest movements are about global governance and a better future for the entire planet – for example, climate change. While Greta Thunberg led Fridays for Future received the global attention, there were multiple environmental movements from Latin America to Asia, looking at the immediate issues from fracking to securing the Arctic.

In perspective

While 2019 witnessed an emergence of these movements, unfortunately for them, 2020 has seen the opposite. For these movements and causes that they espoused, the pandemic of the Coronavirus should be nothing less than a Black Swan event.

The State, across the world, has used the threat from the Coronavirus as an excuse to flatten the protest movements. The State is likely to arm itself with more powers under the disguise of addressing the threats from the virus. The slogan – "social distancing" should be a great rescue for those State, that could have otherwise found it difficult to dislodge these protest movements.

Outside the efforts from the State, the protestors are also taking measures to address the problems of the Coronavirus and keep away from the protests. In some places, they have attempted to shift the movement online or protest individually. But the State is less likely to respond, or even take notice of online protest movements, or those from the balconies. 

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