A for Algeria, B for Bolivia, C for Chile, E for Ecuador, F for France… by now what triggered their protests may not matter very much, and satisfying the demonstrators’ initial demands may have little effect. Chile’s president Sebastián Piñera didn’t clear the streets of Santiago by cancelling a 4% rise in the price of metro tickets, and the government of Hong Kong failed to calm its opponents by withdrawing an extradition bill. Once protests get going, the authorities have to make more concessions or send in the police or the army. Or, as in Iraq, Chile and Argentina, promise to amend the constitution.
No sooner has the fire been extinguished in one place than it breaks out somewhere else. The people’s demands are colossal: ‘The people want to bring down the system’ (ash-shaab yurid isqat an-nizam), according to the slogan widely used since the Arab Spring. How will they achieve that and what will they do then? They often don’t know, yet they press on. In Algeria people have been demonstrating for nearly a year; in Hong Kong they started last March. Their courage is great: fear of brutal repression could paralyse them, but they don’t give up. What is happening in Iran where even the number of demonstrators murdered is a secret?