Mobilizing for democracy? Five myths about protest movements


What these protests illustrate is that religious and sect-based symbols need not necessarily feed into alienating sectarianism, Alshamary concludes. Rather, they can be deployed peaceably and effectively by everyday Iraqis to protest bad governance.

This year has seen protests across the globe, as citizens bridle under what they consider the tyranny of their governments, note USIP analysts Maria J. Stephan and Adam Gallagher. From Iraq to Zimbabwe, Hong Kong to Chile, demonstrators even in places with ample surveillance and retributive regimes have worked to make their voices heard.

But alongside these movements, misconceptions about how they work persist – and plague our understanding of their goals, their methods and their outcomes, they write for The Washington Post, including:

Myth No. 1: Social media has made popular movements more effective.

A dominant theory during the Arab uprisings in 2011 held that the rise of social media would help popular movements. “Through social networking sites, Arab Spring activists have not only gained the power to overthrow powerful dictatorship, but also helped Arab civilians become aware of the underground communities that exist,” said a 2012 article in Mic. A Wall Street Journal story about demonstrations in Sudan this year against Omar Hassan al-Bashir said, “Activists whose street protests precipitated the military overthrow of Sudan’s longtime leader relied on social media.” A 2018 Pew Research Center poll found 67 percent of Americans believed that social media was an important tool for “creating sustained movements for social change.” 


The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) is not planning to change the way it operates or end its support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests, despite Beijing’s sanctions against US non-governmental organizations, NED president Carl Gershman told the Taipei Times.

“We’re not gonna change what we do,” Gershman said when asked if the sanctions would influence the organization’s activities. “We’re not the reason that people in Hong Kong are demanding freedom.”

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