Across the world, protests against corruption, repression and economic inequality are taking place. And students are a major driving force in all of them.
From Hong Kong to Chile, Sudan to Algeria and Iraq to Lebanon, the world appears to be at the grip of protest movements. Despite their wide geographic spread, these protests across the world have a few things in common.
Firstly, they were all broadly motivated by grievances surrounding government corruption, political repression or economic inequality. Another common point has been the heavy presence of youth and, in particular, students, in these protests movements. Indeed, the prevalence of young people and students were noted particularly in the protests in Algeria and Iraq. However, when one looks at the history of protest movements around the world, one can see that protesting students have often been the drivers of sociopolitical change.
In France, demonstrations against the Charles De Gaulle government in 1968 were the biggest the country had seen until then or since. Accompanied by general strikes that brought the French economy to a halt, the protests that were launched by university students ended up involving more than 22% of the French population, leading to the fall of De Gaulle’s government.
In 1989, college and university students gathered in the Tienanmen Square in the Chinese capital of Beijing, protesting against the corruption and repression of the government. Although the protests were violently suppressed, the events of 1989 guided the actions and approaches of the Chinese Government in the subsequent three decades. In the same year, thousands of Czech students protested peacefully in what came to be called the Velvet Revolution, ending the 41-year-long one-party rule in the Czechoslovakia.
At the end of 2010 and the start of 2011, the protest movement that would known as the Arab Spring gripped the Middle East and North Africa. While the spark for the movement – the self-immolation of Mohammed Bouazizi – did not come from students, Bouazizi’s plight nevertheless resonated with the rapidly-growing youth population across the Middle East and North Africa that faced limited employment and economic opportunities while facing corruption and cronyism.
In this context, the student participation in the on-going protests in Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon and Sudan are not an aberration but a continuation of a historic trend. Students are the face of the change against sclerotic leaderships. They are the victims and revolutionaries and the ones calling for political, economic and social change.