Headless Movements Rising in Egypt, Turkey, and Brazil

Mohamed Morsi, cattle rustler.

Yesterday and today, millions of Egyptians have marched against Mohamed Morsi's government. Time reports that the number of demonstrators yesterday "equaled and possibly exceeded some of the highest peaks of the original revolution against deposed dictator Hosni Mubarak," adding that "Tahrir Square, on the edge of downtown Cairo, was packed to the point where crowds extended all the way across two bridges to the other bank of the Nile. And the crowds in Heliopolis were equally massive—completely covering the district."

Today five ministers resigned from Morsi's cabinet, and the military has threatened to step in on the opposition's bahalf. On the bright side, that suggests that Morsi won't be able to count on the armed forces to crack down on the protests. On the not-so-bright side, it means the military might try to coopt this surge of people power, perhaps even using it as a cover for a coup.

Meanwhile, the mass protests in Turkey have not ceased, and another people-power movement is burning in Brazil, where some protesters have taken to chanting "Turkey is here!" Tactics can be contagious: These movements have different roots, are appearing in different contexts, and will no doubt arrive at different outcomes, but they're all watching and learning from each other, and from the other grassroots protests that have flared around the globe over the last few years.

According to the Financial Times, Turkey's ruler has mistaken that mutual awareness for a centralized conspiracy:

I hear the conspiracy killed Whitney Houston, too.Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's prime minister, has suggested that the same outside forces are behind protests in both his own country and Brazil, as Turkish authorities continue their crackdown on overwhelmingly peaceful protesters....

"The same game is being played in Brazil," Mr Erdogan told a large rally of his supporters in the town of Samsun on [June 22]. "There are the same symbols, the same posters. Twitter, Facebook is the same, so are international media. They are controlled from the same centre. They are doing their best to achieve in Brazil what they could not achieve in Turkey. It is the same game, the same trap, the same goal."

In fact, far from being centrally controlled, these movements are notably resistant to control. They are, in the Brazilian sociologist Giuseppe Cocco's phrase, "self-convening marches that nobody manages to represent, not even the organizations that found themselves in the epicenter of the first call." But people in authority have a hard time comprehending that sort of loose, decentralized action. As Moisés Naím wrote last week,

NO HEAD? WHAT HORRIBLE MONSTER ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?The protests—informal, spontaneous, collective, often chaotic—are baffling to governments organized along hierarchical lines of authority. In Brazil, for example, a survey found that 81 percent of those who participated in one of the massive rallies simply learned about it via Facebook or Twitter and decided to join. In these cases, with whom should a government negotiate to restore order?

The leaderless, spontaneous nature of the protests also makes it difficult for the government to find someone to blame—or to decide whom to arrest in the hope of weakening the movement by cutting off its head. There is no head.

Governments misunderstand that at their own peril.

Related: "If This Is a New Cold War, Who's the Enemy Supposed to Be?"

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  • Raven Nation||

    "On the bright side, that suggests that Morsi won't be able to count on the armed forces to crack down on the protests. On the not-so-bright side, it means the military might try to coopt this surge of people power, perhaps even using it as a cover for a coup."

    I've read analysis that suggests the military has always been in control. They led the move to get rid of Mubarak b/c his plans threatened their power. They may well want to get rid of Morsi b/c they see too much Muslim fundamentalism in his regime. And the military & the militants are not friends.

  • ||

    I think the military indicating that it's not going to suppress popular dissent is a good thing, but I agree that the Egyptian military is working an angle and not standing up for Egyptian citizens.

  • Raven Nation||

    Yeah, whatever the motivations, lack of suppression is good. Kind of like Gorbachev in the 1990s.

  • Ted S.||

    Kind of like Gorbachev in the 1990s.

    Tell that to the people of Lithuania.

  • Raven Nation||

    I hold no brief for Gorbachev or anything that he did during this period (including Lithuania). My point was that - as Jesse was arguing for Egypt - Gorbachev released most of the shackles in eastern Europe for reasons related to Soviet economics not because of a commitment to freedom. Nonetheless, those decisions did result in more freedom in eE.

  • Fluffy||

    What's really funny is that I bet that worldwide food price inflation is driving at least some of all this.

    So if Obama could just bring himself to get rid of ethanol subsidies, the world street would probably calm down quite a bit, and give him "stability" (and I'm sure he'd like some of that right about now).

  • LTC(ret) John||

    What, you don't think it wrong to turn 43% of our corn crops into fuel, do you?! Food being used to, well, feed people and animals? Outrageous!

  • robc||

    Ending corn subsidies will cause beer prices to drop.

    Therefore, corn subsidies are evil.

  • Scarecrow Repair||

    Well then, a beer subsidy will fix things right up!

  • wareagle||

    but wouldn't lower prices perhaps spike consumption? And a drunken population is easier to mollify.

  • LTC(ret) John||

    I am willing to take that personal risk!

  • wwhorton||

    "Ending corn subsidies will cause beer prices to drop."

    ...well you've got my attention, brother...

  • Brett L||

    What does corn have to do with the price of real beer?

  • DontShootMe||

    Same thing it has to do with the price of tequila. As corn prices soared, Mexican farmers plowed under their Agave crop and planted corn. If corn brings less money, they might switch back to other crops...

  • Brett L||

    Huh. I thought winter barley was already at a premium to corn, but thank God you didn't say anything about putting corn in beer.

  • DontShootMe||

    Why would I put corn in beer? That's what marshmallows are for.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Bourbon, too.

  • db||

    That plus I could get some good fuel economy. Typically I get about 24-25 mi/gal during a given week. A couple of tanks ago I got some gas that must have had little to no ethanol in it because I scored 31 mi/gal in a standard week. Gots to get more real gasoline.

  • robc||

    They are controlled from the same centre. They are doing their best to achieve in Brazil what they could not achieve in Turkey. It is the same game, the same trap, the same goal.

    Ewige Blumenkraft und ewige Schlangenkraft

  • sarcasmic||

    The leaderless, spontaneous nature of the protests also makes it difficult for the government to find someone to blame—or to decide whom to arrest in the hope of weakening the movement by cutting off its head. There is no head.

    Kill them all.

  • Rasilio||

    "Kill them all."

    It's just a matter of time till Ben Richards causes the Bakersfield massacre, then we get a new reality TV show out of it.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Here's Subzero! Now... plain zero!

  • Fluffy||

    Somebody got paid to write that.

  • Brett L||

    It was the early 80s. I blame cocaine.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    For a good snicker, check out Far Cry 3 - Blood Dragon.It's a 1980's fever dream with laser-eyed dragons and cybermercenaries. It comes complete with Arnold worthy tag lines.

  • Brett L||

    This can't be real.

  • RBS||

    Awesome

    There’s only one force powerful enough to stop an army of rampaging killer cyborgs, mutated scientists, metal sharks, and vicious Blood Dragons that shoot lasers from their eyes – that force is you. Your name is Sergeant Rex Power Colt, a Mark IV Cyber Commando. Lock and load as you and your seven favorite fully customizable killing implements tackle a bizarre open world island crawling with evil. Take down the enemy with ninja stars, guns, or even just good old explosives. Your battle. Your way. Their tough luck.
  • Fluffy||

    That's Rex Power Colt Magnum to you, punk.

  • Hyperion||

    I think it's real.

  • Rasilio||

    The funny thing is for as badly written as the movie was it is one of the most accurate predictions of the future ever committed to film, right up there with Robocop

  • LTC(ret) John||

    Best case - turns out like the Ukraine's Rose Revolution....some freedom for awhile until the oppression descends on them again. Slowly.

  • ||

    I was assured in the comments this weekend that Reason would not cover the protests in Egypt because they were too busy covering gay marriage. I feel lied to.

  • robc||

    The ratio is high. Especially if you count this as 1/3 of as story (with Turkey and Brazil getting the other thirds).

  • SugarFree||

    Now that homosexuals can get married, I propose we change "heterosexual" to "herosexual," even with the understanding that eventually you discomonsters will steal that from us as well.

  • ||

    Would that make Warty a villainsexual?

  • LTC(ret) John||

    Yes.

  • SugarFree||

    He's really more of hulking pansexual cockwraith.

  • Fluffy||

    Hulking?

    I always pictured Warty as being Mini-me sized.

  • SugarFree||

    No, he's gigantic. Bald, bearded, and overmuscled. He builds robots that cut into human flesh and beats up people for fun.

  • ||

    Overmuscled???

  • Swiss Servator - past LTC(ret)||

    Nah. Warty is the only thing that STEVE SMITH is too afraid to rape.

  • ||

  • SugarFree||

    I assume Alfred is in a gimp box under the bed.

    It's a mansion, not a summer camp for wayward youths. There are plenty of bedrooms for you to each have your own.

  • Brett L||

    And yet Bruce Wayne and his ward Dick had to share.

  • SugarFree||

    "They ruined all our best names, like Bruce, and Lance, and Julian. Those were the toughest names we had!"

  • Cane||

    Free speech suffers yet another defeat in Great Britain.

    When was the last time a Reason writer covered stories like this?

  • Hash Brown||

    I think Reason did cover that one, didn't it?

  • BakedPenguin||

  • Brandon||

    Is this the new "worst chat room ever" meme?

  • SugarFree||

    I think so. The yokeltarians have been pushing it full steam in the weekend threads.

  • RBS||

    Seriously, they just start there on blog already. tReason

  • RBS||

    Their. This is what happens when you post while slicing a banana for a one year old.

  • SugarFree||

    Your baby has laughably poor knife skills. You should feel overwhelming shame.

  • RBS||

    It's for the safety of the dog. They have a love/hate relationship.

  • Hash Brown||

    Reminds me of how reporters talk about "the Tea Party" and "a spokesperson for the Tea Party" and "members of the Tea Party." They can't get their heads around a disorganized movement (at least, not when it happens on the right).

  • Hugh Akston||

    Emergent order is one of those concepts that is difficult for people to really get. Especially people who believe that order comes from pressing the tread of a boot into a throat.

  • sarcasmic||

    As evidenced by constant demands that the government "do something" for the economy, when in fact that's the worst thing that could possibly happen.

  • Hyperion||

    In Brazil, for example, a survey found that 81 percent of those who participated in one of the massive rallies simply learned about it via Facebook or Twitter and decided to join. In these cases, with whom should a government negotiate to restore order?

    This shouldn't be surprising at all. The Brazilians will take any excuse to get in the streets and have a big party.

    I just hope that for the sake of all the people in those three countries, that they are not asking the government (the source of all the problems), to solve the problems.

    If you want problems solved, shrink the size of government down as small as possible, keep it out of your daily life and your wallet, as much as possible, and keep it under a microscope at all times. And end career politics.

  • MWG||

    "I just hope that for the sake of all the people in those three countries, that they are not asking the government (the source of all the problems), to solve the problems."

    Meh... being here in Brazil I can tell you it's mixed. The good news is that Dilma's offer to throw $25 billion into public transportation has done very little to end the protest. People want blood, which as I'm sure you know, in Brazil is probably a "net" positive.

  • Hyperion||

    What state are you in?

  • MWG||

    SP.

  • Hyperion||

    Never been to SP.

    I've been sort of watching the protests on and off since my wife has the TV on Globo most of the time.

    I have definitely heard a wide range of views about the issues. It's good to see a lot of concern about corruption. I told the wife that if you don't want more corruption, you need less government, otherwise you get more. The US is a perfect example. The level of corruption here is totally out of control. Not to mention the police state like atmosphere that keeps growing by the day.

  • MWG||

    I've had the "bigger government leads to more corruption" debate with so many Brazilian. The results have been mixed at best.

    Even being married to a Brazilian and living off and on in Brazil for going on 4 years, this article last week in the NY Times was a huge eye opener for how bad things really are in terms of corruption (Which the squirels won't let me link to). Members of congress are being investigated for everything ranges from theft and bribary, to child slavery and murder.

  • CosmoWenman||

    Since they already showed themselves in Tahrir Square two years ago, the Egyptian protesters are going to have to keep doing this every year or so -- everyone showing their faces, protesting, and testifying in public in an open and unified way -- until the remnants of Mubarak's secret police apparatus -- the buildings and the records -- are finally burned to the ground. Or maybe if all the records are published, that might work too. They can't rest until then.

  • Swiss Servator - past LTC(ret)||

    What does the old secret police records have to with stopping an incipient Islamist state?

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Given that both Brazil and Turkey have military juntas (juntae?) in their recent past, I would say it's in the realm of possibility for it to happen again.

  • DontShootMe||

    On the not-so-bright side, it means the military might will try to coopt this surge of people power, perhaps even using it as a cover for a coup.

    FTFY.

  • ||

  • SugarFree||

    "Dude, that helicopter is totally tripping me out."

    "Shut up and help me rape this reporter, you hippie."

  • Swiss Servator - past LTC(ret)||

    Woah...its like SF was there.

  • db||

    "Hey, dudes, let's like, blind the pilot of the helicopter that's hovering right above us!"

    "Down with helicopters!"

    "Exactly."

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    The NTSB would have them all in stockades

  • Bardas Phocas||

    I had to laugh at the 24/7 headline:
    Protesters Battle Police Near Brazil Soccer Stadium
    http://reason.com/24-7/2013/07.....brazil-soc
    Is it possible, in Brazil, in even a small city, to not be near a soccer stadium? When I was there, they were around every corner. Falling apart since they were built by the Military Junta in the 60s to get support, but pretty much everywhere.

  • Brett L||

    "Texans clash with cops near football field."

    Yeah. I see what you mean.

  • Swiss Servator - past LTC(ret)||

    Aussies clash with wallopers near dangerous animals and plants!

    Hmmm. You are correct.

  • Fluffy||

    "Libertarians clash with police near sweatshop."

  • Hyperion||

    "Russians clash with police near Vodka factory"

  • Brett L||

    "Unfortunately, the incidents were started by demonstrators who hurled makeshift bombs and stones at police," Henrique Guelber of the Center for the Defense of Human Rights, told the G1 news website.

    Its always the same. Niven's Law, I guess.

  • ||

    Were they paving stones? Did anybody flip the Brazilian equivalent of a Citroën?

  • Swiss Servator - past LTC(ret)||

    How do you say "car-b-que" in Portuguese?

  • Bardas Phocas||

    carro de churrasco
    they also use barbecue, car-b-que will work.

  • Hyperion||

    Fogo de carro

  • seguin||

    Headlesses aren't that big of a deal. Call me when the mongbats rise up.

  • Swiss Servator - past LTC(ret)||

    ph'nglui mglw'nafh Headlesses Rio wgah'nagl fhtagn?

  • Dean Reddeer||

    What about Idle No More!!!
    That's a great movement.

  • Bardas Phocas||

    Now I'm missing the Occupy Wall Street/a nearby park movement. Whatever happened to those guys?

  • RBS||

    Winter?

  • Dean Reddeer||

  • Swiss Servator - past LTC(ret)||

    They crapped on stuff, their "leaders" got their hands on some cash and vanished, and the rest had to go home before Mom and Dad remodeled their rooms.

  • Cytotoxic||

    On the not-so-bright side, it means the military might try to coopt this surge of people power, perhaps even using it as a cover for a coup.

    How is this bad?

  • Robert||

    Why is noone else asking why Jerry Lewis is on a WANTED poster?

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