The summer of (their) discontent

Source: Wikimedia Commons

When protests sparked in the Middle East two summers ago, they were widely attributed to the perpetuation of extreme poverty by dictatorial regimes. In 2012, when more discontent became manifest, many considered it to have stemmed from the demonstrations the year before. Now, most of the way through 2013, our pale blue dot hosts protests on five continents on a multitude of different issues – we can no longer cite only destitution and autocracy as the reason for rising up. The protesting bug has spread farther and deeper than anyone could have anticipated.

Looking for the sources of global disgruntlement is difficult. Recent finger-pointing has been aimed at everything from global warming, which may have caused the drought in Egypt immediately preceding the revolution in 2011, to the widening wealth disparity in many nations of varying stages of economic development. Citizens have boldly spoken out against the status quo both in industrialized nations – take Spain’s ‘indignados’ – and developing countries. Some believe that the catalyst for protests is distinct in each case – to a certain extent, this is true. Identifying a single blanket cause for global protests is nary impossible – all of the aforementioned countries had exceptionally different political climates long before the eruption of unrest. However, if one looks closely enough, there is a link between these roiling nation-states.

The overarching trend lies in demographics. Several of the countries affected have a population that is characterized by a surplus of young people, which may well be the central ingredient to outbursts of country-wide political discontent.  For evidence of this, one must only look to Egypt and Brazil, two countries where protests have dominated the political landscape this year.  57.2% of the population of Egypt is under 25.  So when Egypt’s most recent president, Mohammed Morsi—a member of and ex-spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood—became the target of protesters’ ire, he was facing a large and vibrant portion of his population propelled by youth and dominated by a passion for change. The protesters detested his archaic – and strictly religious – notions of law and order, as well as his inability to improve the nation’s economy and infrastructure. So, being young, energetic, and the undisputed majority, Egypt’s under-25s simply removed the president, and to this day the acting president remains the chief judge of the Supreme Constitutional Court of Egypt.

On the other side of the planet, Brazil also had massive protests in June and July, though based on entirely different reasons. A hike in public transportation fares in São Paulo incited rancour among Brazil’s economically struggling public, anger that has since expanded to cover all of the injustices Brazilians are forced to face. Hundreds of thousands of Brazilians gathered during the summer months to denounce everything from more expensive bus tickets to a flawed judicial apparatus. As the 2014 Fife World Cup drew near, Brazilians condemned the allocation of government funds toward the building of stadiums instead of improving living conditions. Government corruption was also a target for sharp criticism, especially after the decision of the Brazilian Congress to allow one of the statesmen to retain his seat even as he serves time in prison for embezzling from the government.  Brazil’s protesters didn’t overthrow their government, nor did they approach the institution of fundamentally necessary change. What does this have in common with Egypt? 62% of Brazilians are under 29.

A number of high-profile rape cases that sent their victims—in one case, a five-year-old girl—to their graves sparked massive protests in India, with much of the country’s engorged population flooding the streets and demanding women’s rights. With over a billion inhabitants, the average age in India is 25.1 years. In Mexico, where teacher protests swept the capital in the wake of an education overhaul bill, nearly half the population is under 25.

This is more than a coincidence; it’s a trend. The bulge in youth populations in these countries is remarkable and signals a changing of the guard. These are nations that withstand great inequalities of wealth, education, opportunity, and much more, and the new generation is not plagued by the inertia of older generations.  These young protesters are invested in the maintenance of justice and welfare in their countries, and are not going to let a dictator, corrupt government official, or even crumbling state infrastructure stand in the way of a better life.


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