The Arab Spring 2.0 is blooming amid youth frustration
World View: Protest movements require more truthful online media to succeed fully
Algerians chant slogans at a demonstration as campaigning for Algeria’s presidential election next month got under way. Photograph: Ryad Kramdi/AFP
“Enough!” “A civilian not a military state!” “All of them means all of them.” “No one represents us.” “Iran out.”
Slogans like these are a prominent feature of mass demonstrations that have taken place over recent weeks and months in Algeria, Lebanon and Iraq. New popular movements are being described as the Arab Spring 2.0 after their 2011 predecessor in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia. Those were suppressed or collapsed, leaving only Tunisia surviving as a radical laboratory of democratisation in the region.
Now the revolutionary process is being revived in a remarkably deep-seated and resilient series of mass demonstrations against corruption, gerontocratic power-holding and political impasse in these regimes. Despite their national particularities, they have many features in common and are influencing each other, notably in how they persist against efforts to divide and exhaust them.
The long campaign for an accountable transition beyond military rule in Sudan played out alongside the early stages of the Algerian movement. It is now under way following negotiations between a trade union-led civil society front and the ruling officers. The demonstrations throughout Algeria continue despite presidential elections which those marching say are a token gesture without real change.
In Lebanon demonstrations erupted when the government imposed a tax on WhatsApp and are now on their 38th day. Popular fury against nepotism, youth joblessness and deteriorating public services brings together rich and poor, the three main Maronite, Sunni and Shia communities, women and younger people. A shuffle of jobs in the power-sharing government is greeted with contempt by crowds demanding a complete regime overhaul.
Frustrated by corruption
The Iraqi movement is more long-lived but equally frustrated by corruption, poor services, unaccountable government and now increasingly by resentment over Iranian influence. When the Iranian government imposed a 50 per cent increase in petrol prices, it too was immediately greeted by a popular rebellion throughout the country echoing Iraqi and other protests, which has been brutally attacked with over 100 deaths.
The underlying conditions across these countries and movements were discussed this week by a group of young leaders from the south and north of the Mediterranean brought together in Malta by the inter-cultural Anna Lindh Foundation.
They discussed the huge problems of youth unemployment, preferential access through patronage to public service jobs, dependence on extractive economies and a generalised resentment of corrupt rule by older generations locked in to long-established power structures.
Young, middle-class graduates are condemned to wait for opportunities and now refuse to do so. Working classes and peripheral towns join them in their rebellions. Lebanese participants described the spontaneity, creativity and solidarity of the movement, disgust over poor waste and energy services and the difficulty of getting a hearing for their ideas on how to tackle climate breakdown.
Young, middle-class graduates are condemned to wait for opportunities and now refuse to do so. Working classes and peripheral towns join them in their rebellions
A Lebanese member of parliament spoke of how the movement is completely changing politics and sectarian divisions. He urged those present to think big, in keeping with the needs and demands of their societies, but to harness local innovative energy as they do so. A failure of this rebellion to generate reform risks a collapse of the country’s structures, he fears. Other leaders warn of a return to civil war in an effort to defuse its momentum.
Horizontal and leaderless
The movements are horizontal and leaderless compared to established parties and elites. They are facilitated and empowered by social media in responding flexibly to changing conditions – so much so that the Iranian government banned all internet activity.
In most of these societies, established media are controlled by the state or private interests who pursue their own agendas. That leaves little or no space for public service broadcasting or disinterested mainstream journalism. Surveys show most young people use and trust social media much more in North African and Middle Eastern countries compared to European ones. It is critically important that they are able to develop more reliable and truthful online media if these movements are to succeed, the meeting agreed.
Established media are controlled by the state or private interests. That leaves little space for public service broadcasting or disinterested mainstream journalism
That demands greater political and leadership capacity from the younger generation driving them, notwithstanding their dissatisfaction with existing structures. Otherwise they risk being outmanoeuvred through well-endowed surveillance and repression by state apparatuses. The Egyptian and Saudi regimes fear these movements extending to their populations, just as the Iranians do.
Seen from Europe, they are yet another sign of political change and opportunity in these neighbouring states. There is a convergence between the youthful rebellions against unpopular regimes and direct action taken by European youth against their governments’ failure to tackle climate breakdown.