Friday, 5 July 2013

Analysis - Summer of discontent and polarizing politics

More than 200,000 marched in major Brazilian cities
AP Photo/Nelson Antoine

Protest. The very buzzword has dominated transnational media for the past few months, the question is why and how connected are all these instances? A multitude of different actors are in varying amounts of intensity in opposition to their government.

The United States 

On the 4 July, formally known as Independence Day celebrates the declaration and dissolution of British colonial rule in the newly formed United States of America. These celebrations this year have been diluted somewhat by the national civil protest entitled "Restore the Fourth", a protest branded as "Anti-NSA" in light of data-surveillance allegations. The Fourth Amendment is a constitutional safeguard to individuals being free from invasions of privacy and unwarranted seizure from legal authorities and thus acting as a check of power.  As explored in a previous blog, the idea of "capability and actuality" is the apex of having this discussion in regards to intelligence services, but will this civil protest change anything? In the long-term, not really. Intelligence services will exploit as much information as possible, as it is mandated to do, without encroaching  civil liberties so long as people consent to their data being sourced for intelligence. In the short-term, we may see a congressional committee established to provide transparency to the public in light of recent civil protest.  The main objective of the protest is, however, to educate the public on matters relating to telecommunications interception and the power of in the intelligence apparatus which can only be a good thing.


In June, Brazil had a more intense affair. What initially started out as small-scale public demonstrations organized by the Free Pass Movement in response to raising prices of bus fares in the region of Porto Alegre became subject of widespread mass-rallies in the greater regions, including Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia and Sao Paulo. In retrospect, the rise in transportation fares served as a catalyst to bring further political grievances. One of the common themes in Brazilian politics is the discontent in the integrity of government and public officials. Corruption has been highlighted by the general population, particularly as President Rousseff has been insufficient in addressing the issue by seeing a myriad of different ministers resign on corruption allegations. Rampant spending on sports infrastructure in conjunction with underlying symptoms of economic stagnation has provided traction for the protests who'd rather see money being poured into social spending rather than to "swagger" the development of Brazil's economy to the international stage through the medium of high-profile sports events.


Likewise in June, what started out as small-scale public demonstration on a singular issue rapidly escalated into addressing underlying, long-term dormant errors in the nation's political infrastructure. The small-scale demonstration orchestrated by predominantly younger environmentalists in Istanbul's Taksim square was the tinderbox that sent the Turkish populace transcend into social unrest. After a few days, the protests spread nationwide and had reportedly affected Yalova, Bolu, Adana, Ankara et al. The protest brought to the surface the polarization of Turkish politics, a key concept that will transcend into my themes of political landscapes for the next decade. It comes into the limelight when the ruling party's main secular opposition brought to attention the Turkish Prime Minister's Recep Tayyip Erdogan's reforms that compromise the constitutional secularization of Turkish politics. Domestic reforms such as the prohibition of alcohol after 10pm and foreign policy in arming Islamic rebels in Syria have knee-jerked the population into bringing this into public attention. Whilst the protests may undermine Justice and Development party in the next election, the lack of a real credible alternative and a strong enough strong base will anchor their position in Turkish politics.


The most intense protest to have reached new heights this summer is the Tamarod's movement against the recently disposed Muslim Brotherhood governance lead by former President Mohammad Morsi. After a military coup which instated the head of the supreme constitutional court Adly Mansour to assume the role of presidency during the transitional process back to civilian rule. The initial source of the protests are as a result of reforms by President Morsi to consolidate the presidency giving overreaching powers that undermine the High Court, failure to adequately reform the political apparatus and failure to guarantee employment security to the population. Egyptian politics, as a consequence, is polarized and risks becoming a pendulum that alternates between ruler and opposition at any given time. The important component of this transition is the importance of establishing a government that can address the collective grievances of the population. The most logical way of ensuring this through a coalition government which is easier said than done. In particular, coupled with the recent reported statement by the Muslim Brotherhood that they will not work with another party, the road to stability which the Egyptian military desires is a long and complex one. As a consequence of the Muslim Brotherhood's ousting, ultra-conservative Salafist entities have reported to have resulted in using violence with heavy weaponry in the South Sinai region, including El Arish airport which will only undermine the military's efforts to establish stability.


The past couple of months have illustrated a general sense of desensitization and unhappiness amongst a myriad of different states, varying in intensity. Mobilisation of public protest is now easier than ever before thanks to the advancements of telecommunications and its ability to galvanize a population in relatively little time. Nations have failed to address underlying social and political grievances and are thus losing the confidence in their government. Some are easily recoverable, particularly amongst states which have a strong economic competency and well-founded, durable political institutions to address their respective matters. However, those engulfed in the very framework of their government, judicial system and constitutional establishment, expect the discontent to carry into the winter.

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