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The Spirit of 2019

If the current wave of popular protests around the world has a common thread or unifying explanation, it is the yearning for dignity and respect. People have taken to the streets because they feel they have been humiliated, ignored, and despised for too long by irresponsible, corrupt, and distant political elites.

PARIS – As in 1848, 1968, 1989, and 2010-2012, a wave of popular protests has taken the world by surprise. Ongoing mass revolts – in Beirut, Santiago, Hong Kong, Algiers, Baghdad, and other cities – are gaining strength and wrongfooting governments. But although the temptation to seek historical comparisons is understandable, the 2019 uprisings also have a distinct flavor of their own.

Nearly a decade ago, many in the West referred to the 1848 “springtime of peoples” when describing the protest movements that began in Tunisia and spread to Egypt, Libya, Syria, and other Arab countries. Likewise, many of the Lebanese whom I met on a recent visit to Qatar had no doubt that a new “Arab Spring” cycle was unfolding today, except this time on a global scale, and seemed torn between excitement and anxiety.

Today’s protests also carry echoes of May 1968, not least in their youthfulness, spontaneity, and lack of identifiable leaders. Yet, as with any historical development, the events of 2019 must be understood on their own terms.

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