The Choices Blog

History and Current Issues for the Classroom

Tag: Arab Spring

The Umbrella Movement and Trends of Modern Protest

Over the past five years, we have seen a surge of public uprisings around the world. From Tunis, Cairo, and Madrid to Istanbul, Kiev, and Caracas, people have turned to public protest and civil disobedience to express frustration with their countries’ distinct social, economic, and political states.

The Choices Program has just published a new Teaching with the News lesson on the recent prodemocracy protests in Hong Kong. The protests have emerged in response to the Chinese government’s announcement that although it will allow universal suffrage in the 2017 election of Hong Kong’s chief executive, voters will only be able to choose among two or three candidates selected by a nominating committee. Protesters fear that the Chinese government will use this nominating committee to ensure that only pro-Beijing candidates enter the election process.

Protesters gathered in downtown Hong Kong earlier this month. (Pasu Au Yeung, CC BY-SA 2.0.)

In what ways is Hong Kong’s “Umbrella Movement” similar to and different from other civil disobedience demonstrations that have emerged in recent years? In a video interview for our Scholars Online collection, Brown Professor Melani Cammett discusses some of the broad issues that contributed to the wave of popular uprisings in the Arab world in 2010-2011.

As has been the case with the revolutions in the Arab world, protesters in Hong Kong are demanding more democratic freedoms from their government—specifically, in this case, the right to democratically nominate and elect their government leader. Economic inequality within Hong Kongese society and frustrations among highly educated young people about challenges finding work and housing are also contributing to public discontent. In addition, like in the Arab revolutions, the Hong Kong protests are comprised of large numbers of young people—many of whom are still too young to vote.

But despite these similarities, there are stark differences between the protest movements. Many of the Arab countries that experienced mass revolutions beginning in 2010 and 2011 suffer from widespread poverty and government corruption. In contrast, Hong Kong is China’s economic hub and has become known for its “clean and corruption-free” government. Furthermore, many of the Arab revolutions demanded and ultimately resulted in the overthrow of authoritarian leaders from countries including Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen. The Hong Kong protests, on the other hand, are centered primarily around one aspect of election policy in Hong Kong. While protesters have expressed a desire for Hong Kong’s chief executive, CY Leung, to step down, they are not attempting any sort of revolution to change the government structure of China as a whole. In fact, the Hong Kongese prodemocracy group Occupy Central has been vocal about its desire to be called a “movement” as opposed to a “revolution.” They are decidedly nonviolent and the scope of their demands is limited.

Moreover, many of the initially peaceful protests in the Arab world have resulted in tragically violent conflicts and harsh government repression—most strikingly in the case of Syria and its descent into a brutal civil war. While the Chinese government has not expressed any willingness to meet protesters’ demands for open public nomination of Hong Kong’s chief executive, a peaceful dialogue has already begun between government officials and student protest leaders.

Comparing the current protests in Hong Kong with one specific protest movement, like the 2013 Gezi Park protests in Turkey, can also help to illuminate common tools and tactics of modern protests. In another Scholars Online video interview, Barbara Petzen, an education consultant specializing in how to teach about the Middle East, discusses creative ways Turkish protesters responded to media censorship during the Gezi Park protests.

While what triggered the Gezi Park protests and Hong Kong’s protests are different, there are similarities in how the government responded to each as well as in the strategies protesters used to get their messages across. Like in the case of Turkey, the Chinese government has censored many news and media outlets in response to the recent protests. In China, the press has depicted Hong Kong protesters as extremists who threaten the unity of China, and the government has shut down social media sites like Instagram. This government censorship has impacted how mainland Chinese view the protests in Hong Kong. In addition, censoring posts on Weibo (a site similar to Twitter) has affected the ability of protesters to communicate with each other. This has prompted creative solutions—for instance, many protesters in Hong Kong have been using alternative social media apps, like FireChat, that do not rely on the internet.

In addition, both the Gezi Park protesters and Hong Kong’s prodemocracy protesters have used strong symbolism in getting their messages across. Whether a spray-painted penguin with a gas mask in the case of Gezi Park or a trash collection bin emblazoned with the number 689 (the number of votes current Hong Kong chief executive received from China’s electoral committee) in Hong Kong, protesters have demonstrated ingenuity and creativity.

KeithPictures (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Hong Kong protesters have received international attention for regularly cleaning protest sites and setting up recycling centers. Many trash bags and cans have signs attached with messages such as “Throw out your 689 here” and “689! General waste.” (KeithPictures, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.)

Learning about the Hong Kong democracy protests can help students think about the role of mass public action in politics and grapple with the question of how protests in varied places and times can be both similar and different. How and why do public protests arise? What tactics do protesters use? Are there clear leaders of civil disobedience movements? What relationship do protesters have with government officials and police? What role do technology and social media play—both for the protesters and for the governments they are demonstrating against? What does it mean for a protest to be “successful”?

 

Check out Choices’ new free lesson on the Hong Kong protests, and for more on the history of China’s political development, see the unit China on the World Stage: Weighing the U.S. Response.

 

Some Choices units that deal with the theme of public protest and enfranchisement:

More FREE Teaching with the News lessons on uprisings:

And look out for our new unit on experiencing and responding to climate change, coming soon!

Events in Syria Bear Watching

The situation in Syria continues to worsen. A UN sponsored commission, led by Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, has just issued a report on the deteriorating conditions there and the suffering of civilians. Pinheiro, who collaborated with Choices on its human rights curriculum, testified today (12.2.11) in an emergency meeting of the UN Human Rights Commission, “The extreme suffering of the population inside and outside Syria must be addressed as a matter of urgency. Victims expect nothing less from the United Nations and its member states.”

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has called for urgent measures by the international community.

In this video Pinheiro describes the role of UN in protecting human rights.

We at Choices plan to release a Teaching with the News on the latest developments on the Arab Spring in about ten days. An updated version of Shifting Sands: Balancing U.S. Interests in the Middle East is schedule for release in late 2011.

Here are a few interesting sources on current events in Syria:

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2011/09/2011923115735281764.html

http://www.npr.org/2011/11/12/142270039/arab-league-suspends-syria-other-options-unclear

http://video.pbs.org/video/2165728968/

Values and Public Policy: Helping Students Make the Connection

An examination of the values that motivated historical actors is an important part of understanding history. I think one of the most effective elements of Choices materials is the role play that calls on students to first observe the values of historical actors, and then to articulate the values that underlie their proposed option for a contested international issue.

I use the values activity in the Shifting Sands: Balancing U.S. Interests in the Middle East unit in my semester long International Relations class. I first elicit from students (10th-12th graders) the values that they subscribe to and that they think should ideally underlie their own policy option for how the U.S. should interact with the Middle East.

After we discuss the concept of values and identify the values inherent in the four policy options that students are assigned to role play, they are ready to articulate the values that they would draw on to create their own U.S. policy towards the Middle East. In creating their own option, they must demonstrate their understanding of the history of U.S. relations with countries in the Middle East. This year students wrote a U.S. policy towards Libya, just as the U.S. was deciding on its level of involvement in this new regional flare up.

With all of the Choices units I’ve used, students have always commented that they learn more when they have to defend an option they normally wouldn’t support. This makes students more aware of the notion of competing perspectives and points of view in creating policy.

In sum, Choices materials help cultivate a habit of value-based decision making that’s based on a reflection of the values of historical actors, but also forces students’ self reflection on their own values.

How do you use the Values Activity found in many Choices units? What do your students say about the activity?

Posted by guest blogger Kevin Conlon, Francis Parker School, Chicago

Maine Teachers Use “Protests, Revolutions, and Democratic Change” TWTN Lesson for Innovative Project

Media coverage of pro-democracy protests across the Arab world – collectively known as the Arab Spring – has captured the world’s attention. Amy Sanders (Social Studies teacher) and Cathy Wolinsky (Instructional Technology Integrator) at Yarmouth High School in Yarmouth, Maine, seek classroom partners for a collaborative study of the Arab Spring. The project, modeled after the Flat Classroom Project, will begin in early October and last approximately one month. Utilizing the CHOICES Teaching with the News lesson, “Protests, Revolutions, and Democratic Change,” the project envisions students working in international collaborative teams to learn more about the protest movements in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain. Students also will be asked to reflect on what they have learned and connect this to their experiences with democracy. If you would like to join the project or would like more information, please visit: http://arabspring.wikispaces.com/ or contact Amy Sanders at amy_sanders@yarmouthschools.org.

The Arab Spring

Nowruz is the name of the Iranian New Year. It occurs each year on the vernal equinox (around March 21st) and is celebrated by Iranic peoples throughout the world. Nowruz is the holiday of spring, and people come together to celebrate light and renewal by cleaning out their homes, having bonfires, and feasting. This Nowruz, President Obama delivered a message to the people of Iran, pledging support for their dreams and aspirations and for democratic change. I think that President Obama’s words are eloquent and compelling, but they raise complicated questions about the United States’ role in the many social movements of this Arab Spring. The U.S. has decided to use force to help end the dictatorship in Libya, but can military might really have a positive effect when the U.S. relationship to the region is so fraught? Is the U.S. now obligated to use force in other countries like Bahrain and Yemen? There are no easy answers, but we must continue to ask questions. I think the coming months give teachers an amazing opportunity to have conversations with their students about the Middle East–a region rich in history and tradition where so many people are standing up and making their voices heard. Many of the protesters in Egypt last month, and in Iran last year, were youth. Challenge your students to learn more about the lives and cultures of their fellow high schoolers in countries throughout the Middle East, and ask them to consider the role of the United States in democratic movements abroad.

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