Despite its brutal tactics, Iran’s regime fails to contain mass protests

“The Iranian regime is struggling to crush a massive wave of nimble and durable protests, unlike any the Islamic Republic has faced in the past. The leaderless movement has grown in strength despite increasingly harsh crackdowns, relying on unprecedented solidarity between ethnic minorities, different religious groups, and men allied with protesting women.
The movement started in September after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, an ethnic Kurd from Saqez in northwest Iran, who was arrested in Tehran by the morality police for allegedly wearing her hijab incorrectly and who later died in police custody. Protests in Saqez quickly spread to Tehran and other cities throughout the country. Now in their third month, the protests show no signs of stopping, despite the shocking violence security forces have deployed against the demonstrators, including savage beatings, mass arrests, and indiscriminate killings of protesters, including children.”

“more than 300 have been killed during the protests. That number includes roughly 50 children under 18, the New York Times’ Farnaz Fassihi reported last week. But casualties and arrests are difficult to track; social media and internet access have been severely curtailed, and foreign reporters can’t access the country. Thus far, five protesters are set to be executed for participating in the uprising.”

Blocking a Highway Is Not a Legitimate or Effective Form of Protest

“Blocking highways is dangerous no matter the target of the protester’s ire. Canadian truckers recently used the same tactic to push back on vaccine mandates, creating a traffic bottleneck on the busiest international crossing on the continent and cutting off some people from their livelihoods. Whether you’re protesting COVID dictates from the government, climate change, or the issue du jour, consider that your demonstration will not win hearts and minds if it’s hurting people.”

The Pandemic Killed Dissent in Hong Kong

“When Great Britain returned control of Hong Kong to China in 1997, a condition of the transfer was that Beijing would allow the territory to maintain its own government until 2047. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has never liked this agreement, and the COVID-19 pandemic provided the excuse to all but erase the “one country, two systems” distinction.

The CCP began its authoritarian assimilation of Hong Kong in 2019, when Beijing encouraged CCP loyalists in Hong Kong’s legislature to pass a law allowing extradition of residents to mainland China. That proposal sparked pro-democracy protests and a police crackdown in Hong Kong, which captured the world’s attention.

In June 2020, Beijing responded to the pro-democracy movement by requiring Hong Kong to implement a national security law that “introduc[ed] ambiguously defined crimes such as separatism and collusion that can be used to stifle protest,” as The New York Times put it. But the pandemic provided Beijing with an even bigger opportunity to suppress dissent.

Citing public health concerns, Hong Kong postponed its Legislative Council (LegCo) elections for a year. In the interim, Beijing changed LegCo election rules to reduce the number of directly elected seats and to require that candidates pledge their loyalty to mainland China.

With only Beijing-aligned “patriots” on the ballot, CCP loyalists swept the 2021 LegCo elections. Many leading opposition politicians went into exile, while others were jailed. Voter turnout was a paltry 30 percent—the lowest since the handover in 1997. By comparison, a record 71 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the 2019 district council elections. The high turnout was reportedly driven by opposition to the extradition treaty, and pro-democracy candidates won 85 percent of the available seats.

The pandemic also has facilitated suppression of pro-democracy protests. Every June since 1990, residents of Hong Kong had marched and held a vigil in memory of the Tiananmen Square dead. But in 2020, Hong Kong announced that it would extend social distancing restrictions until June 5, the day after the massacre’s anniversary.

Hong Kong’s COVID-19 rules banned public meetings of more than eight people, with a potential penalty of six months in jail. As a result, only a small vigil was held. Organizers nevertheless were arrested and sentenced to up to 14 months in jail. The sentencing judge remarked that they had “belittled a genuine public health crisis.””

Can Sri Lanka dig itself out of a $50 billion debt?

“After a month of intense civilian-led protests over Sri Lanka’s deteriorating economy, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa agreed to appoint a new council on Friday to lead the formation of an interim government. The resolution would create a coalition made up of all parties in Parliament and would remove the grip of the Rajapaksa family dynasty currently ruling the country. At issue is the country’s economic future, which is in shambles after defaulting on payments on its mountain of foreign loans — estimated to be worth $50 billion — for the first time since the country gained independence from the British in 1948.
Signs of Sri Lanka’s impending economic crisis became increasingly apparent over the last two years of the Covid-19 pandemic as food prices soared and power blackouts increased in frequency. Sri Lanka currently has about $7 billion in total debt due this year.

Many attribute Sri Lanka’s economic crisis to the mishandling of its finances by successive governments through mounting foreign debt and continued infrastructure investments. The Rajapaksa administration also implemented sweeping tax cuts in 2019, slashing the value-added tax (VAT) rate — the tax applied to imports and domestic supplies — from 15 percent to 8 percent, which contributed to a decrease in the country’s revenue.”

The Canadian trucker convoy is an unpopular uprising

“The so-called “freedom convoy” is nominally protesting a vaccine mandate for truckers, implemented in mid-January on both sides of the US-Canada border. But the demonstrations have swiftly ballooned into a broader far-right movement, with some demonstrators waving Confederate and Nazi flags. Protester demands include an end to all Covid-19 restrictions in Canada and the resignation of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The demonstrators, which have included as many as 8,000 people at their peak, have terrorized Ottawa: blockading streets, harassing citizens, forcing business closures, and honking their extremely loud horns all night. Ottawa police, who have proven some combination of unwilling and unable to restore order, have even set up a special hotline to deal with a deluge of alleged hate crimes stemming from the protests. In the first week of February, it received over 200 calls.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson has declared a state of emergency, and Trudeau’s government has deployed hundreds of Royal Canadian Mounted Police to the protests. As the situation in Ottawa continues, the freedom convoy movement has expanded across the country. Demonstrators have shut down at least two border crossings between Canada and the United States.

But while the protests are generating a lot of noise and attention, the eruption actually points up a counterintuitive fact: The Canadian far right is weak and ineffectual, especially when it comes to pandemic restrictions.

Canada’s provinces have generally employed strict Covid-19 measures such as school mask mandates and vaccine passports, including during the recent omicron surge. They have enjoyed broad public support in doing so; even the strictest restrictions are less controversial in Canada than in the US. The current demonstration is quite unpopular with the general public, divisive even inside the center-right Conservative party.

This doesn’t mean the movement will accomplish nothing. It has already contributed to a revolt against the Conservative party’s leader and is serving as an important organizing node for far-rightists. The border crossing blockage is putting more stress on the US-Canada supply chain, costing (by one estimation) $300 million a day in economic damage. Internationally, the freedom convoy has inspired copycat efforts in both the United States and France.

But it’s important to understand the broader context in Canada. News coverage of the convoy, especially from sympathetic anchors on Fox News, may lead Americans to believe that Canada is in the midst of a far-right popular uprising. In reality, the mainstream consensus in Canada about Covid-19, and the nation’s institutions in general, is holding. The so-called trucker movement is on the fringe, including among Canadian truckers — some 90 percent of whom are vaccinated.”

India’s farmers confronted Modi and won. What happens now?

“In a surprise reversal after more than a year of nonstop protests, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has agreed to repeal three controversial laws affecting the country’s agricultural industry.
The laws, which sparked a massive protest movement after they were passed in September 2020, were designed to modernize India’s agriculture industry — but India’s farmers and other critics said they would advantage corporations at farmers’ expense.

Modi’s decision to back down is a key victory for farmers, whose protests have centered on the Indian capital of New Delhi, and a sign of growing dissatisfaction with the increasingly Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which Modi leads.”

“The laws promised to open the agriculture market to commercial buyers, as opposed to the current system of government markets purchasing farmers’ goods and effectively guaranteeing them a minimum income. But as Vox’s Jariel Arvin explained in December 2020, farmers feared this would subject them to the whims of the market and massive corporations, and make it harder to make a living.”

Iraq’s parliamentary vote marred by boycott, voter apathy

“Iraqis voted..in parliamentary elections held months ahead of schedule as a concession to a youth-led popular uprising against corruption and mismanagement.

But the voting was marked by widespread apathy and a boycott by many of the young activists who thronged the streets of Baghdad and Iraq’s southern provinces in late 2019. Tens of thousands of people took part in the mass protests and were met by security forces firing live ammunition and tear gas. More than 600 people were killed and thousands injured within just a few months.

Although authorities gave in and called the early elections, the death toll and the heavy-handed crackdown — as well as a string of targeted assassinations — prompted many who took part in the protests to later call for a boycott of the vote.”

“The election was the sixth held since the fall of Saddam Hussein after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Many were skeptical that independent candidates from the protest movement stood a chance against well-entrenched parties and politicians, many of them backed by powerful armed militias.”

‘This Is No Way to Live’: Discontent Spilled Over in Russia. But Will It Matter?

“For some reason, despite the risks, millions of Russians are unhappy enough with Putin to go out in the streets and protest. The question is—why? And will it matter?”

“Why did he think Russians were turning out like never before? Davidoff said that everyone he asked began with the phrase: “Well, I don’t agree with Navalny about everything, but …” I had heard similar comments. Then the speakers would continue with phrases like these: “But if they can treat Navalny this way, they can treat me this way.” “But it’s a matter of self-respect.” “But the corruption is out of control.” “But my bills keep going up and my pension stays the same.” “But my salary just disappears.” “But I’ve got to help support my parents.”

Whatever the motivation for each person, it was strong enough for them to risk physical harm, detention or even imprisonment to express discontent with the country and their lives.”

“Russians really are having a hard time making ends meet. In Moscow, with its shopping malls, elegantly dressed population and boom of elite housing, it’s easy to miss.

It’s also not easy to see on paper. All the statistics seemed to indicate that Russia weathered the Covid storm better than most countries. At the beginning of 2021, data showed that the economies of European countries contracted about 7.4 percent in 2020 and the world economy was down 3.5 percent, while Russia’s economy contracted by only about 3.1 percent. Analysts at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics noted cheerfully that this was the first time in history Russia did better than the world average. This appears to be in part because the segments of the economy hit hardest by the pandemic—service sectors—are relatively small in Russia. The price of oil, Russia’s main source of income, did plummet for a while, but then it began to edge up again. Today it’s almost $70 a barrel, while the state budget is based on revenues of $42 per barrel.

But on the micro level it’s a different story. Household incomes are down 3.5 percent in the past year, and this is a deeper dip in a downward trend: Households are making 11 percent less in real terms than in 2013. From Dec. 1 to March 17 the price of gas jumped 18.5 percent. Food prices have risen by almost 8 percent from April 2020 to April 2021, and the government is paying 3 billion rubles (about $40 million) to subsidize the price of sugar. The government has even banned the export of buckwheat groats, a staple for Russian families in hard times, to keep the price affordable.

All of this means that none of my retired friends can live on their monthly pensions of 12,000 rubles ($164) without working or getting help from their children and families. And it explains why all of us have been living paycheck to paycheck.”

“Corruption in Russia has always been a problem, but the conventional wisdom is that it seems to have gotten worse in the past two decades. First, my friends would tell me, they had to pay 15 percent in kickbacks on state contracts, but now it’s 35 or 50 percent. The saleswoman in a local household goods store told me how she and her husband had saved up enough money to buy the rights to a small press kiosk, but since it was at a bus stop and owned by the city, he had to get an official’s signature. Dressed in his best suit, her husband went into the office and explained what he needed. The bureaucrat replied, “Well?” My friend’s husband didn’t understand, and after a few questions back and forth at cross purposes, the official finally said, “Didn’t anyone tell you? My signature costs $50,000.”

Businesspeople also run the risk that a competitor will pay off someone in law enforcement to bring charges against them—and watch as the competitor takes over their business. Everyone resents the day-to-day corruption that makes life difficult, the money you pay in taxes or fees that disappears into someone’s pockets. You pay your apartment fees, but the management company doesn’t shovel the snow or wash the floor in the entryway or fix the hole in the roof. You watch workers change the curbstones on your street four times in three months. The trash cans in parks are overflowing. Getting your kids in the right school or right class costs extra.”

“The government crackdown in recent weeks means life has changed dramatically for independent media and opposition political figures and activists. Dmitry Gudkov, once a member of the parliament who formed the opposition Party of Changes, packed up and left Russia on June 6 after being warned by sources in the presidential administration that otherwise a “fake criminal case would continue until his arrest.” On June 9, the Anti-Corruption Foundation was declared an extremist group, thus making all its employees ineligible for elections for at least three years—including, of course, in the upcoming parliamentary elections scheduled for September. For Russians who hoped for change through open media and elections, it felt like the end of an era in Russia’s political life.”

“Albats points out that throughout Russian history, autocrats have been forced out only when they lose the support of the “elites”—which these days means the billionaires around Putin.
Which suggests that a crusader like Navalny, no matter how charismatic, and ordinary Russians, no matter how discontented, are unlikely to change that pattern.”