“From father to his sons and daughters,” began president Hosni Mubarak’s speech to millions of angry protestors across Egypt on February 10, 2011. “I will hold steadfast ... until power is transferred to whomever the people choose in September.” Twenty-four hours later, he resigned.
You can’t fault his optimism; political experts and economic analysts were no more clairvoyant at the time. Most attributed the success of Egypt’s 2011 uprising to social media’s reach, the rising price of bread and unemployment rate, and youthful restlessness, but a 2012 survey by Cairo-based Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies now shows that only eight percent of Egyptians used Facebook at the time, only seven percent protested for economic reasons, and more than half of protestors were actually older than 30.
In the past three years, protestors have taken to the streets in more than 80 countries across the world, but only in six did governments fall. Reassured by the math, heads of state usually respond to protest with a formula: repress, concede a little, and then wait for calm. Unfortunately for some rulers, what turns protest into regime change isn’t just a matter of numbers. In 1956, Cuban president Fulgencio Batista left only a dozen rebels alive in the country’s Sierra Maestra mountains; three years later, some 500 marched triumphantly into the capital Havana, as Batista fled the country. And on October 11, 2008, Icelandic lawmakers probably shrugged when songwriter Hördur Torfason, now 68, began protesting alone on the lawn before Parliament in Reykjavik. But every Saturday for three months, Torfason was joined by new protesters, until Iceland’s entire government resigned.
At time of writing, heads of state in Syria, Turkey, Russia, Spain, Brazil, the Central African Republic, Tunisia and, again, Egypt (now on its third government in three years since Mubarak’s fall) still cling to their seats despite ongoing protests. But by the time you read this, things may have changed in those countries, or in another country entirely. Successful revolutions are the ones no one saw coming.
From the pages of COLORS #88 - Protest.