Tag: protests

Living IR: Lessons from Manuela Picq’s arrest and detention

Photo of Manuela Picq being arrested. Photo used with permission.

Photo of Manuela Picq being arrested. Photo used with permission.

Over the weekend news came from Ecuador that Dr Manuela Picq of Universidad San Francisco de Quito, had been beaten and arrested while participating in a legal protest over indigenous rights as a journalist. Initially hospitalised as a result of injuries sustained at the hands of police, she was  informed that her visa had been cancelled  due to her having engaged in “political activity” and that she would be deported from Ecuador, where she has lived and worked for the past eight years. She is currently being held in a hotel that is used to detain illegal immigrants until her case is heard this afternoon.

[UPDATE: Manuela has been released after the judge ruled that her arrest was not justified and detention unreasonable.]

Once news had broken, the reaction has been swift and condemnatory from activists and academics alike. A petition on Change.org calling for Manuela’s deportation to be halted has gathered more than 6,000 signatures at the time of writing, letters of support are being sent to President Correa and his government, and a protest has been held in Ecuador.

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Tweets of the week #4

This was another busy week in global politics and I’m going to highlight some of the best tweets in my Twitter feed. Before starting, however, I will acknowledge that this post is late.

I believe my excuse is pretty good as it involves lots of late night baseball. I grew up in Kansas rooting for the local team — and the Kansas City Royals are in the playoffs for the first time since winning the World Series in 1985. Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, the Royals won three consecutive extra inning games. All ended after 1 am Eastern Time. I then had to read for 30 to 45 minutes after the long and exciting games just to unwind enough to sleep.

None of those victories featured  the longest game of the week. As DC residents know, the Washington Nationals lost to the San Francisco Giants 2-1 in the 18th inning. I caught a bit of that contest:

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Tweets of the Week #3

Twitter HQ: Logo artwork

It’s the weekend, so it’s time for the third edition of “Tweets of the Week.” My twitter feed was again filled with some interesting micro-blogging.

By the way, I apologize for the way last week’s home page post looked. Obviously, I’m doing something wrong with the images, though it seems to be fine once the reader clicks the link to Continue Reading. I hope readers can see the image at the top of this page. Continue reading

Anti-Semitism in Germany: A Comment

“Mutti,” aka Angela Merkel, is not amused. Neither is the rest of the German political establishment, the German media, or the vast majority of German people. Three days ago, some of the protesters against the Israeli campaign in Gaza yelled anti-Semitic hate paroles, a man wearing a kippah was chased through Berlin, and the police didn’t interfere. This is absolutely shameful for all of us Germans and it is very understandable that the Israeli ambassador to Germany, Yakov Hadas-Handelsman, condemned the acts in the strongest words. However, Mr. Hadas-Handelsman is wrong to insinuate parallels between the current situation and the Germany of 1938. Continue reading

Note to Controversial Commencement Speakers — Don’t Quit!

Let’s face it, most commencement speakers aren’t really all that inspiring. Every spring, tens of thousands of graduating seniors, proud parents, faculty, and others sit through seemingly endless speeches filled with those insipid “inspiring life lessons,” those essential “kernels of wisdom that will guide graduates through life’s challenges,” and the hopeful “ten ways this year’s class of graduating seniors will change the world.”

Humor sometimes — but only sometimes — helps.

And, then occasionally the stars align and we get that memorable commencement — with a speaker whose presence and message provokes students to think about their core values, their beliefs, their relationship to the broader world; the speaker who gets the students to reflect on their courses and their intellectual growth over the past four years; someone who gets students and faculty talking, debating, and if we are really lucky engaged, riled up, and even impassioned.

That’s what makes this whole recent dust-up over a number of commencement speakers bailing on their invitations so unfortunate. These are the commencement speakers who need to show up. Continue reading

Sanction Threats, Imposition, and Protest

Editor’s note: a more detailed version of this post previously appeared on my personal blog.

If sanctions are to succeed as a tool of coercive diplomacy, they must impose real costs on the target. Yet, in most cases, they fail to do this—at least, directly. TYellow rubber duckhe economic costs tend to fall disproportionately on the average person, while the regime and its elite supports often find ways to benefit from newly emergent black markets. But might sanctions put pressure on the regime through some other channel? Say, by increasing protests?

There have been many attempts at answer this question, all of which have been plagued by serious measurement issues. The recent release of new data both on sanctions and protests allows for a more convincing analysis, which Julia Grauvogel, Amanda Licht, and Christian von Soest provide in this paper.


One big problem any study of the impact of sanctions must deal with is that of strategic interaction. When an episode ends at the threat state, we don’t get to observe what would have happened if sanctions had been imposed. So if we don’t look at what effect threats themselves have, we’re not getting the full story.

GLvS thus look separately at the impact of new threats and new impositions on protest activity. They also allow for the possibility that certain types of threats (impositions) might have a bigger effect. Under the assumption that the primary channel through which sanctions increase protests is through signaling that the international community shares (some of) the goals of the protesters, they check to see if it matters whether the sanctioners specifically targeted the human rights practices of the target regime, whether the sanctions are narrowly targeted at the regime and its supporters, and whether they are multilateral in nature.

Somewhat surprisingly, the authors find that none of that seems to matter. We of course need to be careful, because the absence of evidence is not the same as evidence of absence, but it appears that context isn’t too important. However, they do find, as expected, that threats are associated with an increase in protests, whereas the actual imposition of sanctions is not.

Social Media and Protests

[Note: A more detailed version of this post appeared at my personal blog.]

The Cairo protests that ultimately led to the ouster of Hosni Mubarak received a great deal of attention on Twitter—the most used hashtag in 2011 was #egypt—leadingYellow rubber duck much discussion over whether we were seeing  “a Twitter revolution.” But the mere fact that protests occurred at the same time as an increase in calls for regime change on social media does not establish that the latter in any way fueled the former. The same factors that lead people to take to the streets might drive behavior online. Absent a credible identification mechanism, there’s no way to settle this matter empirically. But one question we might reasonably ask is whether we can at least identify a clear mechanism by which they might do so.

At this point, you’re probably saying to yourself, “Um, yeah. Obviously.” Because you’re probably thinking that social media can help people learn that they’re not alone. That Twitter can help break the fear wall. But there are problems with that argument, as Andrew Little discusses in a fascinating new paper, “Communication Technology and Protest.”

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Could the Youth Protests of the EU, Middle East, Turkey, and Brazil Spread to Asia’s Corrupt Democracies?

brazil-confed-cup-protests_jpeg3-1280x960

Jay Ulfelder and I had a Twitter conversation on this question in the last few days (here and here). But Twitter has such limited space, I thought I would break out our discussion on the blog and ask what others thought.

Watching all these riots – driven heavily by youth dissatisfaction, it seems – is making me wonder if this might spread to Asia’s democracies.

A lot of the problems these protests are identifying exist in spades in Asia: high-handed, out-of-touch governments; election-proof pseudo-technocracies that act as unaccountable oligarchies; shallow, clique-ish political parties that provide no meaningful transmission belt of citizen preferences; massive government and business corruption; wasteful white-elephant spending to capture global ‘prestige’ while everyday services like health care and education are underfunded; closed political opportunity structures that regularly reward insiders and large corporations with crony connections to the state; wealthy, de-linking elites with 1% lifestyles wildly at variance with the rest of the population… That’s Asia too; there’s more than enough sleaze to go around.

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A Short (and Hasty) Note on the Current Wave of Attacks

Tunisia Protests, AP

Readers probably already know that anti-western attacks are spreading beyond Egypt and Libya, and to non-US facilities. In Sudan, the German embassy is “in flames.”And so on.

How would someone committed to relational social analysis understand what’s happening? Here’s an ‘analytical snap judgment’:

  • We have an event — the emergence of the anti-Muslim film — that fits a particular pre-existing script concerning identity relations: “Americans/Westerners hate/disrespect Islam/Muslims.”
  • We have a script about what happens next: ‘Believers protest.’
  • We have pre-existing scripts and repertoires for how to engage in protest at various levels of specificity ‘attack institutions representing and/or affiliated with Americans/westerners,’ ‘set them ablaze,’ ‘raise Islam-oriented flags,’ etc.
  • Actors attempt to mobilize/channel/co-opt/suppress responses to the event by issuing proclamations, directing core supporters to act our those scripts/repertoires, deploying the infrastructure of the state, and so forth. 
  • Demonstration effects operate at the level of regimes, entrepreneurs, and ordinary people.
  • In this case, the trigger has the potential to activate and polarize specific identity boundaries: Islam/West, Muslim/Christian, Radicals/Moderates, Religious/Secular, and so forth.” The dynamics at stake involve broader wars of position and maneuver within specific countries, in transnational religious politics, and in interstate relations.

Fragile regimes worry about becoming included in the “affiliated with American/westerners” category; moderate and establishment Islamists worry about being outbid — losing their positions of leadership and cross-boundary brokers to more radical elements — and also about irreparably harming their relations with the United States and Europe; radicals hope to make such a balancing act impossible. Transnational jihadist hope to expand their core supporters, sway the opinions of fence-sitters, and cow their opponents. Action-reaction dynamics in one country impact those in others.

That being said, I expect that the immediate effect of the protests, attacks, and riots to be relatively small. We’ve seen this story before — albeit with two major differences: after the Arab Awakening (1) the stability of many Middle Eastern regimes is much more precarious and (2) Islamist parties have a stake — sometimes a dominant one — in a number of governments. Still, my gut instinct is that these differences won’t change the underlying trajectory: one of an ephemeral trigger for mobilization in the context of movements that lack sufficiently broad networks or support to sustain mass protest and large-scale violent action. If that diagnoses is correct, then what we’re looking at is another series of episodes in a much longer-term struggle — one in which the local, regional, and international stakes are very high indeed. [ed note: I should note that these two differences are rather significant… and that they raise serious questions about my ‘snap’ prognosis. I also don’t want to sound like I am minimizing the ongoing violence, loss of life, and property damage. This is serious stuff.]

*Note that these dynamics also operate outside of the Muslim and Arab worlds: consider the partisan political dimensions of the debate in the United States over these attacks, as well as the aims of specific right-wing groups in the United States and Europe.

Obama ‘how’s that hopey changey stuff working for ya?”


As the Occupy Wall Street New York movement enters its second week of activity and the movement spreads to LA, Boston, Chicago, Denver and other cities across the country, the silence on the part of the Obama administration becomes more and more noticeable (we can’t count Biden’s weird and incoherent references to the movement in an interview yesterday). Few expected Obama to come out with any statement last week, when the media was still painting the movement largely as a band of hippies who don’t know enough to shower, let alone drive a political movement. Dan Gainor at Fox news pointed out that these individuals did not represent the 99%, that they may not even be real Americans, and they certainly didn’t have a movement with traction.

But its October 5th, and there are thousands (there aren’t any specific ideas of numbers yet) of protesters RIGHT NOW who have marched through the city to Zuccotti Park. Backed by one of the cities biggest unions, and joined by thousands of students participating in a national day of protest, one thing is not undeniable: this is a political movement speaking not only about corporate greed, but also about government failure.
Most of us know all this, what we don’t know is what Obama has to say about all of it. And for the first time since I heard her shrill voice spit out these words, I feel Palin’s taunt “how’s that hopey changey stuff workin for ya?’ somehow seems appropriate here (or at least its the first time I can think of the line and not want to hurt Palin). If Obama doesn’t have the political savvy to come out at least with a statement of understanding and support, surely his advisers must be telling him to do so?
Many of the chants resonating through the Occupy Wall Street movement seem to echo lines from Obama’s election campaign.
“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”
“Change doesn’t come from Washington. Change comes to Washington.”
Can you really run a campaign on change, hope, speaking to the average American and ending Wall street greed but then remain silent when thousands of Americans (likely many of whom voted for you) start a peaceful political movement asking for a voice and for change? In my mind Obama has already missed the boat in terms of his chance to connect with this movement. The initial silence went from tentative, to awkward, and now is just insulting. These are the issues that American’s want to talk about and the longer Obama remains silent, the more he looses his right to cast himself as the hopey changey presidential candidate in 2012.

Egypt Rises Up

Do we?

Tomorrow is slated to be a showdown between the US backed Mubarak regime and masses of Egyptian protesters. It is a critical moment for Egypt, and also for the Arab nation.

What strikes me about these events, is the general way in which the discourse of “reform” continues to be the official American mantra (at least where there is not out right denial of the authoritarian nature of the regime in Egypt). After decades of supporting a dictatorship, the US government continues to claim that the Mubarak regime needs only to reform to retain power and address the legitimate anger of the Egyptian people. Of course, part of the reason that the regime has resisted political opening is strong US support, particularly whenever the prospect of an increase in Islamist representation in the government is raised.

Regardless of whether the Mubarak regime is finally toppled, it is time for Americans, as a people, to engage in a serious discussion of the long term costs and benefits to the American people of having our government prop up authoritarian regimes.

Anonymous attacks Tunisian Government Websites

The Christian Science Monitor is reporting that the hackitivist collective [?] “Anonymous,” famous for DDOS attacks on Mastercard and Paypal after the Wikileaks Cablegate fiasco, is attacking the government of Tunisia’s website in support of the growing and increasingly violent protests there:

“But the unrest has since spread to a wide cross-section of Tunisian society, reflecting broader discontent with inequality and autocratic leaders perceived as corrupt figures who live high on the hog while blocking free expression by average Tunisians (see map showing protest locations). The pro-Wikileaks hacker group “Anonymous” has even joined the fray, launching cyber attacks on the Tunisian government.”

It is difficult to judge the impact of Anonymous so far, but it is at least an interesting show of solidarity. Although the proximate cause of the rioting is the self-immolation of a university graduate who was arrested for selling fruits and vegetables without a license, the Wikileaks documents are apparently fueling the protests (again from the Christian Science Monitor article):

“US State Department cables published by Wikileaks last month may have thrown fuel on the fire, by showing that US diplomats privately hold similar opinions of Tunisia’s leadership as many Tunisians.” 

The government crackdown includes attempts to censor social media websites which are being used to organize the protests as well as arrests of three members of the Tunisian branch of the Pirate Party:

 “A Le Monde interview with a member of the “Tunisian Pirate Party” referred to as “Sofiene” revealed a cat-and-mouse game between government censors and Internet freedom fighters and their foreign allies. Protesters are using Facebook mirror sites, proxy servers, and other means to outwit censors and get out their message, reported the French daily, an excerpt of which the Monitor translated for our non-francophone readers:

State censorship will increase, but counter-censorship is now strong. Tunisians are more and more informed, and demand information. Censorship only works if people self-censor and are afraid, or aren’t interested in the news.”

While the underlying cause of these protests remains economic (high unemployment, high food prices, and increasing integration with the sluggish European economy), the organizational form seems to be increasingly reliant on new social network technology (although at this point the protests could easily spread through other means if Internet based social networking sites were all blocked). Of course, this does not mean that the government will be toppled by the twitterati or that techno-democratization will occur in Tunisia. Having taught in a university in the Middle East when only one fax machine was allowed for the entire campus, I know that authoritarian states have a way of bringing threatening communications technologies under control and even using those technologies to facilitate surveillance and repression.

But what we are seeing is that outside actors are increasingly willing to try to help counterstrike when authoritarian states crackdown on Internet based networking technologies. In addition, Twitter, Facebook, Google, and the US government are not the only players in the game. Non-corporate/non-state networks like “Anonymous” may also become relevant actors willing to “backstop” social networking technologies (through mirror sites) and challenge the ability of repressive states to use the Internet in future dramas of global politics.

URGENT: Stop Coburn Amendment to End NSF Program for Political Science

Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) has proposed an amendment to the Senate Commerce, Justice, Science appropriations bill, which will end the National Science Foundation’s program for political science.

I have set up an online petition to rally opposition to this amendment, and I ask any and all readers to sign it, and pass it on to anyone and everyone. I also encourage everyone to call their senators and ask them to stop amendment 2631 to H.R. 2847.

http://www.petition2congress.com/2/2508/keep-nsf-political-science-program/

UPDATE: The petition has generated over 2,000 letters to Congress in less than 24 hours!

Certain G20 Protesters Senselessly Ravage Beautiful American City Clash With Police in Pittsburgh, Giving the Rest a Bad Name. And For What?

The G20 Summit kicked off yesterday in Pittsburgh, and today the NYTimes reported that anti-globalization protesters vandalized the Boston Market I used to feed my kids at in Shadyside. Aside from feeling a bit homesick when I saw the photo of that neighborhood on the front page, I ask myself what the anarchist block of these movements really thinks it’s accomplishing with these tactics. Bear in mind that unless the movement has changed considerably in the last decade, the majority of the protesters are using nonviolent tactics and it’s only a few on the fringes that are mucking up my beautiful former city.

Here are two standard rationales for anarchist tactics at the protests:

Rationale #1: The “black bloc” legitimizes the wider movement on non-violent protesters by behaving illegitimately. This kind of “radical flank” effect is noted in many social movements, but in this case since the Black Bloc tends to monopolize the press coverage, I tend to think they do more harm than good.

Rationale #2: They promote the movement by inciting a harsh police response that then tarnishes the authorities in the public eye, creates press for the movement and helps the mainstream nonviolent protesters look like helpless victims. Classic insurgent strategy, can be quite effective but like other forms of violent protest or terrorism, often has the opposite effect of making moderates look like they’re associated with extremists.

I have a more cynical hunch based on my memories of being involved in the organizing run-up to the 1999 Battle in Seattle while in graduate school at University of Oregon: at best those two rationales serve as justifications. I suspect that anti-globalization vandalism isn’t tactical at all but rather primarily self-promotional. Individuals in fringes of the anti-globalization movement may be doing it for no better reason than to earn status among their peers, a small minority of the wider movement. A shame to see an entire protest effort tarnished by the self-aggrandizing activities of a few.

Also, I wish they would stop wrecking my Pittsburgh!

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