Why are protests in Middle East way more effective than here?

Photograph: Ian Langsdon/EPA

500,000 protest cuts in London, and this is inspiring indeed.

But the protests in the Middle East / North Africa (MENA)have been vastly more successfully in forcing change than those held in the US / UK. Most of the MENA protests, which have toppled governments, have been predominately nonviolent too, just like here. So why have they been more successful while our protests are mostly ignored by the powers-that-be? Some of the anti-Iraq war protests were huge and while they may have led to some changes in US war policy, they’ve had nowhere the impact that the MENA protests have.

Why is this?


    • That’s a huge part of it. A massive mediaplex that self-censors real protest. But media in MENA is more more restrictive and their protests have broken through and collapsed governments.

      I don’t have any answers yet, but this is definitely something worth exploring more.

  1. You’ve raised this question before. And I was pondering it at a recent protest in NYC. I think there may be a very simple answer: the protest ends and everyone goes home. When the protest ends, its effects fail to begin.

    • Some replied to this on Twitter saying, protesters get killed in the Middle East. That inflames the situation. But I think there’s more to it than that. It’s very curious.

    • There may be something to that – a week or so ago we had a little protest here on The Oregon High Desert in solidarity with unions and laborers in general. Funny thing, as I commented on my radio show yesterday, out of a couple hundred people maybe ten were under fifty, maybe five under forty. And as it is The High Desert, four thousand feet in altitude close enough to the forty-fifth parallel to call it half way to the north pole, and it was snowing… afterwards, we all went home. Then again, both Fox and the Kool-Aid Kompanies to well here.

      I tried to get the guy in the pickup that was flipping us the friendly finger to step out of the truck and mix it up with me but… guess it was just selling wolf tickets. Can’t imagine why, these days the cops all call me Mr Bears.

      Don’t have to be a Peace-freak to be against War.

  2. It could be that in the UK you arrange your protest in advance, get permission from the authorities and in most cases liaise with the police on stewarding and an agreed route. Then after a nice walk around town you go home and get on with working for your living. As a rule they are nice polite affairs where most people don’t want any trouble. When there is trouble the “official” march condemns the trouble makers as “anarchists” and the press have a story.
    I don’t think that is the formula with the present protests in the Middle East and North Africa.

  3. Keeping us punching the clock does much to limit the length and breadth of a protest. In 1999 I witnessed a peace meditation in Sri Lanka at which 160,000 people came from all over the island – by bus, taking multiple days away from businesses or farms to do so – and united for peace for 4 hours. It was at the time the largest such event in anywhere in the world. As a percentage of population, that would be the equivalent of 3.2 million Americans from every state in the union parking themselves in Washington for an afternoon. Not easy to do when most people have jobs.

    On the other hand, most Americans oppose the wars, but not strongly enough to get out and do anything about it. The commitment shown by Sri Lankans who were willing to sacrifice much-needed income to travel across the country (and potentially risk their lives doing so) was itself a powerful political statement, and kicked off a grass-roots political process that culminated in a 4-year cease fire. But many of them felt the war much more directly than we do. Protecting us from the effects of war is a political act by a government that wants us complacent. A relative handful of fringe protesters is not a sufficient force to change the position of a government, when the rest are content to go to work each day and watch football in the evening.

    As for these protests in the middle east: they seem to have the support of the broader community. When ours get that, they will probably be as effective.

  4. “When ours get that, they will probably be as effective.” I’m not too sure about that, I think it is safe to say that the anti Iraq war protests in the UK had the broad support of the majority of the population but nothing happened. I think there has to be other ingredients. Spontaneity, continuity, real anger, a willingness to take on the authorities and stand your ground, when we see that in our mass demonstrations, then we might see some real change. Staged performances with the co-operation of the authorities and the police will never put any real pressure on the state no matter how big your demonstration. In all the Middle Eastern and North African demonstrations so far, the authorities took on the protesters but the protesters stood their ground and didn’t go home. The state is always counting on your eventual subservience.

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