x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

A tale of two countries

Leaders in Brazil and Turkey have responded quite differently to widespread popular protests. The contrasting approaches reveal very different understandings of democracy.

The Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has a lot on his plate at the moment, so perhaps he didn't really think it through when he linked the protests in his country to those in Brazil, blaming both on a "foreign conspiracy".

While there are common disaffections, the complaints that led to these separate protests were very much about local, grassroots issues. In Turkey, a plan for developing a well-loved public park was the spark; in Brazil, it was a rise in public-transport fares.

Both protests have broadened out, with people using the street rallies as a platform to air a raft of complaints, ranging from allegations of corruption and authoritarianism to excessive government spending.

What is instructive is how the leaders of the two countries have dealt with the challenge. Mr Erdogan has spoken of conspiracy and called the protesters "villains". Brazil's president, Dilma Rousseff, has been conciliatory; she has met protesters' representatives and even said the size of the demonstrations "prove the energy of our democracy".

What happens next in either country is unknowable, but Ms Rousseff's approach of listening to the people is definitely more constructive than Mr Erdogan's ham-fisted fuelling of the flames of discontent.