Behind the anger: why so many people are protesting around the world right now

The flashpoints driving current unrest around the world are as diverse as the people pouring into the streets. Here's a look at what's driving the anger.

What you need to know about the protests unfolding around the world

A demonstrator gestures near a burning barricade during anti-government protests in Concepción, Chile, last Saturday. (Juan Gonzalez/Reuters)

For some, it's about a sudden hike in the price of a subway ticket. For others, the suggestion of a stolen election. Or a stolen country.

The flashpoints driving current unrest around the world are as diverse as the people pouring into the streets. 

The world is at a high level of protest right now, says Robert O'Brien, a political science professor at McMaster University in Hamilton.

And he sees a common theme: "A dissatisfaction of both political and economic arrangements governing people and in different parts of the world."

Here is a closer look at what's driving some of the anger. 

The cost of living 

In Chile, the anger was sparked Oct. 6 by a four per cent increase to the price of riding the subway in the capital of Santiago. But it was as though someone had just picked a scab.

Five days later, grocery stores were being looted, people were stockpiling food, and more than a dozen people were dead

"Chile woke up!" people chanted, as the protests expanded into a denunciation of inequality, with demands for better access to education and health care, and an increase in wages. 

Demonstrators bang on pots as they protest in Santiago during an upheaval that has almost paralyzed the South American country long seen as the region's oasis of stability. (Rodrigo Abd/The Associated Press)

While many may think of Chile as a wealthy, politically stable country, it is plagued by economic inequality and an income gap that is 65 per cent greater than the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average. 

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets. An eventual apology and promise of social reforms from Chilean President Sebastián Piñera did little to stifle the fury, even though he pledged increases to pensions, a cut to the price of prescription drugs for the poor and a guaranteed minimum wage of 350,000 pesos a month (about $630 Cdn). 

In Lebanon, a new tax on the popular WhatsApp messaging service prompted anger starting on Oct. 17. But as in Chile, that seemingly small development quickly gave way to wider rage over systemic corruption, inadequate public services and a looming economic crisis. 

Demonstrators shout slogans during an anti-government protest in the southern Lebanese city of Nabatieh on Oct. 24. (Aziz Taher/Reuters)

Schools, universities and businesses closed for days as hundreds of thousands of people filled Beirut's famed Martyrs' Square.

Just like in Chile, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri soon promised reforms in response — including a cut to politicians' pay and a new tax on banks, which would be put toward reducing a public debt that is one of the highest in the world, relative to Lebanon's size. 

The protesters' reaction? Too little, too late. 

"We're staying in the streets until the looted public funds are restored, until the government falls," protester Heba Haidar told Reuters. 

""They are stealing," said Mohammad Jana. "The least we can do is civil disobedience." 

There are issues in Lebanon and other countries that residents see as being the last straw, O'Brien says. So getting a tax hike reversed or a few social reforms isn't enough.

"Once people start to take action, they tap into, I think, a much deeper unease and unrest with how their societies are organized and how economic benefits are distributed," he said.

A similar sentiment brought citizens to the streets in Ecuador a few weeks earlier. The government there cut fuel subsidies in early October, and the price of gas soared. 

The protests — led by Indigenous leaders — also grew to include anger over corruption, restrictive human rights and discrimination against the country's Indigenous people. 

Anti-government demonstrators march against President Lenín Moreno and his economic policies during a protest in Quito, Ecuador on Oct. 8. (Fernando Vergara/The Associated Press)

President Lenín Moreno initially said he had no choice — that the subsidies in place since the 1970s were no longer affordable. He backed down two weeks later, after days of seeing the capital, Quito, at a virtual standstill. 

But talks between Moreno and the head of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador — aimed at keeping the protesters from returning to the streets — broke down.

And in Haiti, protests have once again erupted across the island, leaving at least 20 people dead. The anger there is also over the cost of dwindling basic goods, including gasoline, soaring inflation and corruption. The majority of people in Haiti earn less than $2 a day, while about a quarter earn less than $1 a day. 

Opposition leaders say they will keep the protests going until President Jovenel Moïse resigns. 


The months-long protests in Hong Kong were sparked in the spring by anger over a government bill which would have allowed people in Hong Kong to be extradited to face trial elsewhere, including in mainland China.

But even after Hong Kong's embattled leader agreed to suspend the bill in July, the streets still seethed, as the protest expanded into a broader fight for democracy, at times attracting about two million people. Carrie Lam recently withdrew the bill — long a key demand of the protesters.

But the movement gave rise to four other main demands along the way: 

  • An end to the protests being described as riots.
  • An independent inquiry into alleged police brutality against the protesters.
  • Amnesty of all imprisoned activists.
  • Political reforms to achieve real universal suffrage.

As a result, it is seen as unlikely that Lam's capitulation on the bill will be enough to end the anger; some protesters also want her to resign.

While the Hong Kong protests have dominated headlines around the world for weeks, they have not been the only ones fuelled by anti-government sentiment. Politics are behind many of the mass demonstrations in Latin America, the Middle East and Africa. 

In Iraq, more than 200 people have died and thousands injured in anti-government protests that erupted in early October. The unrest has been fuelled by frustration with the economic hardship facing much of the country and a desire to bring an end to a political system seen as subservient to the United States and Iran. 

University students take part in a protest over corruption, lack of jobs and poor services in Kerbala, Iraq, on Oct. 28. (Abdullah Dhiaa al-Deeen/Reuters)

Despite Iraq's oil wealth, many citizens are poor and have limited access to clean water, electricity, basic health care and education. 

"We are here today for freedom, dignity and a good life," university student Abbas al-Hamzawi told Reuters on Oct. 28. "We demand the fall of the regime, the suspension of the constitution, and an emergency government." 

The Iraqi parliament has passed measures to try to calm the anger, including the cancellation of all privileges and bonuses for the president, prime minister, cabinet, parliament members and other senior officials, as well as the dissolution of all provincial and local councils outside the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region.

Protesters have said it is too little, too late, and are demanding the full resignation of the government.

In Ethiopia, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed became the target of thousands of protesters' fury just two weeks after he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his sweeping reforms that included welcoming home exiled opposition figures who had been considered terrorists by the previous government — including prominent opposition activist and media entrepreneur Jawar Mohammed, who holds a U.S. passport.

Oromo youth chant slogans during a protest in front of Jawar Mohammed's house, an activist and leader, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on Oct. 24. (Tiksa Negeri/Reuters)

But in remarks to Parliament, Ahmed warned unnamed people "who don't even have an Ethiopian passport" that "if you threaten our peace and security, we will take measures."

And he warned against media owners "fomenting unrest." 

Many saw the comments as directly targeting Mohammed, who said he woke up the next morning to discover efforts were being made to remove his government-provided security detail.

"Later on, I found out the plot was to remove the security and then unleash a mob attack on my house and accuse some other rival groups," he told his legions of supporters on social media. 

People took to the streets in the capital, Addis Ababa, and the protests spread across the Oromia region, in some cases turning violent and deadly

Politics has also been behind recent protests in Bolivia, Honduras and Guinea. 

A demonstrator holds a sign that reads 'No more fraud' during a protest in La Paz, Bolivia on Oct. 22. (David Mercado/Reuters)

In Bolivia, citizens who believe Evo Morales has stolen the recent election were in the streets chanting, "Fraud, fraud, fraud."

In Honduras, protesters have been demanding the ouster of President Juan Orlando Hernández over the drug-trafficking conviction of his brother, whose trial saw the president himself implicated.

And in Guinea, the people suspect President Alpha Condé is trying to change the country's constitution so he can seek a third term in power.

And of course, it's all about politics in Britain and Catalonia, where the protests centre on whether to stay or go.

Anti-Brexit sentiment is driven, in part, by the feeling that U.K. voters were deceived or misled during the June 2016 referendum that resulted in a tight victory for the leave side, while the leave proponents feel their democratic vote to exit the European Union has been delayed and threatened by political leadership. 

Meanwhile, for the first time in decades, Catalan independence rallies turned violent this month, after nine Catalan separatist leaders were convicted on Oct. 14 to long jail terms for sedition after leading a failed 2017 bid for independence that included holding a banned referendum.

Climate Change

O'Brien says he can also draw a link between all of the economic and political unrest and climate change protests that have swept across the continents in the past year.

A participant holds a replica depicting globe on fire during a 'Fridays for Future' march in Mumbai on Sept. 27, calling for urgent measures to combat climate change. (Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters)

He points to how the movement is mobilizing hundreds of thousands of young people around dissatisfaction with how political institutions "don't seem to be taking account of the interests of this particular group, who are talking about the interests of future generations."

With files from Reuters and The Associated Press