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While mass demonstrations against the government have rocked Hong Kong for months, protests in Iraq and Lebanon have unseated respective governments. People in Barcelona, Haiti and Chile have also taken to the streets with their demands. Vali Nasr, a former State Department advisor and professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies joins Hari Sreenivasan for more.
From Hong Kong and Iraq to Lebanon, Spain, Haiti and more… protests have flared around the globe, some lasting for months now.
For some perspective on what could be triggering the demonstrations, Hari Sreenivasan recently spoke with former U.S. State Department advisor and professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Vali Nasr.
First, are these in any way, shape or form, connected? I mean, it seemed when it was the Arab Spring, it was literally regional. It was country after country. There seemed to have been a tipping point. But now we are seeing protests for different reasons in Hong Kong, in Chile, in, you know, parts of the Middle East. What's happening?
Well, they're not connected in the sense that one group is protesting because it saw protests elsewhere on social media or television. But they're connected in the sense that there is a general feeling of unhappiness around the world, unhappiness with where the economies are going, where countries are going.
In the west, we see it in form of a populist uprising. At the polls, the pro globalization, pro European integration, pro democracy forces losing ground to dissident forces who believe things are not working for them. They're not happy with what governments are doing and they're not happy with the economic promises they're receiving.
In countries where the ballot box is not an option, like in Lebanon or in Hong Kong, in a sense, you're seeing these things come out on the streets. And I would say also that if we looked at the general numbers for where the global economy is, we're seeing a gradual decline.
We hear less and less talk about the promises of emerging markets, countries from the developing world, you know, becoming wealthy and prosperous and self-sustaining economically. So the economic underbelly is also weak. And finally, since President Trump has come into office, he has given a lot more latitude to authoritarian governments to do as they please.
And I think in some cases we're seeing authoritarian overreach, a triggering backlash, where we're seeing that that moment where authoritarian governments thought that, you know, they have it all under control and they now can push further, is now receiving a pushback from the public in the streets.
You know, over the decades, it seems that the protests have always been led by a particular generation. Is there a demographic consistency here? I mean, because at least in the videos, it seems that there are young people, whether it comes to South America or the Middle East or Hong Kong that are really pushing now.
Well, I mean, most of the areas that you that you refer to, the youth, is the overwhelming portion of the population. So whenever you have large numbers of people in the streets, you will see a lot of young people. Otherwise you won't get those numbers in the streets if young people didn't show up. But also young people are both more risk takers and are also more worried about the future and are more willing to challenge the way things are. There is a desire to shake things up.
So in Lebanon and in Chile or in Hong Kong or in Egypt, this is turning out into being at the forefront of challenging existing authority and state structures.
The problem with this is that there is also no leadership, there's no party, there's no clear blueprint that is driving these protests. And then we can see a repeat of what happened during the Arab Spring, where even where they succeeded as in Egypt, they were not able to translate that into something new. And elsewhere, they were not able to sustain the protest and in some cases, as in Syria or Libya, things actually fell apart completely.
We're also seeing that governments are getting smarter in figuring out how to use the same tools or to block those tools that protesters are using digitally. So some protesters may be using certain apps to try to organize and governments are figuring out how to stop that.
What we've seen clearly since the American elections is that the Internet is no longer a force for democracy. The way we used to think about it, that it actually can be a force for undermining democracy or democratic practice, as in the case of U.S. elections but also undermining pro-democracy movements of trying not only to jam, they're building up a community, but also spreading of false information that can confuse things.
So governments have become a lot better at that. But what we are seeing is that they are not able to assert total control. In other words, there are cases where the population still shows its discontent despite what it's being fed by the government and despite the limitations of social media.
All right. Vali Nasr, a Middle East scholar and professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Thanks so much for joining us tonight.
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