x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Brazil handles protest better

The wave of public anger in Brazil felt like the Arab Spring - but the official response was much different, Arab pundits write. Other comment topics: Egypt's protests and the Mandela vigil.

Arab-Spring-style winds of change reach Brazil - and the government responds 'we hear you'

"The Giant woke up." "I want schools and hospitals on FIFA's standards." "I'm writing history. Don't erase it with your rubber bullets." "No right or left, we're all Brazilians." "Sorry for the inconvenience. We are changing the country."

These slogans and others were on protesters' placards in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and dozens of other cities across Brazil, Mohammed Aref noted in the Abu Dhabi-based daily Al Ittihad. It is the Arab Spring, Brazilian style, he said.

Brazil is the world's seventh biggest economy, with a GDP exceeding $2 trillion (Dh7.3tr), Aref noted. The baffling question therefore is why the winds of change blow so strongly in a country with so much economic and political success?

Attempting to answer that question, Musa Barhuma wrote in the London-based Al Hayat that the more-than-one-million protesters there are calling for better education, health care and public transit. They also demand a clampdown on corruption and a reduction in lavish spending on major sporting events, including the football Confederations Cup, next year's World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.

As in Arab Spring revolts, the locomotive of the protests was the youth, that refused to gather under any political umbrella, convinced that both the government and opposition are to blame for Brazil's problems, such as rising food prices, the writer remarked.

The protesters want Brazil's priorities reordered and a better fight against corruption, that seems rampant within the political class. The demonstrations are also about football fans who cannot afford tickets to a match at Maracana Stadium, where renovation costs have soared to an estimated £360 million.

But unlike in the Arab Spring, the Brazilian protesters have not sought to topple the government. The initial spark was a hike in bus fares; this morphed into a nationwide reform movement venting a range of grievances.

Equally noticeable is that the government has not responded with a bloody clampdown. Neither has it accused demonstrators of attempting to undermine the state, as the government of Turkey did.

The speech by the Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff, was positive. She did not ask protesters "who are you?", as Libya's Muammar Qaddafi did. Rather, she said "I hear you". She described the protests as evidence of "the strength of our democracy", and vowed to battle corruption and improve public services.

Neither Brazil nor Turkey is an Arab country, but Arab-Spring-like winds of social protests roared through both.

Both are democracies, yet they have reacted differently to mass protests. The Brazilian response was calmer and wiser, with a fine display of sporting spirit in a crisis partly fuelled by a sport issue, Barhuma concluded.

Four scenarios for Egypt's protests today

Four possibilities can be imagined for today's demonstrations calling for the Egyptian president, Mohammed Morsi, to step down on the first anniversary of his taking office, Wahid Abdel Majid wrote in the Cairo-based paper Al Masry Al Youm.

The first scenario is the one reform advocates want: a strong response capable of recreating the January 25 revolution. This hinges on major nationwide peaceful protests pitting people from all walks of life against the government. The president then would be forced to resign, whether on his own initiative, or by order of the Brotherhood as it hopes to preserve a role in what comes next or by order of the army. Early elections would be held.

Under the second scenario, only a small number of the many discontented Egyptians will to take to the streets, thus failing to send a strong message. There would be an even balance, in the streets, between supporters and opponents of Mr Morsi. A new plan entailing a compromise would then be needed.

In the third scenario, the authority will stall on negotiating in a bid to allow its supporters a chance to use violence against protesters, leading to the army to step in and oversee a negotiation.

The worst-case scenario sees intimidation succeeding in holding protesters below the "critical mass" needed to force a compromise. Here the outcome would be further escalation that could lead to a failed state.

The Arab world needs a man like Mandela

South Africans have been gathering in public squares to pray and express gratitude for Nelson Mandela, 94, who is critically ill in hospital. In the Emirati paper Al Ittihad, Zainab Hifni said the scene makes you lament the lack of this kind of impromptu, unpoliticised love in Arab societies.

Mr Mandela contracted tuberculosis during his stay in Robben Island prison in Cape Town. He spent nearly two decades there as a political prisoner, and yet he stuck to his principles, demanding his people's right to live in freedom and equality.

The dreams of the anti-apartheid icon are now a reality. He, however, is slipping away. But "I believe real leaders do not die, and real leadership cannot be bought or sold; their bodies are buried in the ground when death comes, but their good legacy … remains etched in the memory of their peoples", the writer said.

Where are Libya's Muammar Qaddafi, Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and Tunisia's Zine El Abidine B Ben Ali, today? Yet certain other Arab leaders do not learn from the fate of their counterparts.

Zahra Morie wrote in Al Quds Al Arabi that South Africans are now standing in awe of a man who brought them glory. "How much we need prudent leaders and sages like Mandela … political adolescents are all we can see … God bless Nelson Mandela".

* Digest compiled by Abdelhafid Ezzouitni

AEzzouitni@thenational.ae