The most dangerous weapon you have is your voice. You don’t like something? Speak up against it. The same goes for entire populations; their most powerful weapons are not sticks, stones, or Molotov cocktails—it’s their voices.
Corrupt governments around the world, from the weakest to strongest, fear the people most. When crowds begin to protest, the government must respond, and will reveal its true colors through such a response. What’s the one response, however, that all corrupt governments have in common? They blame the problem on foreign conspiracies.
Hong Kong is the most recent example of this. In response to the “Umbrella Revolution,” the Chinese government blamed “foreign anti-China forces,” according to a state-run newspaper. Chinese state press blamed the U.S and U.K directly for conspiring against China, and making a “big fuss” of the protests.
In December, 2013, when protests erupted in Ukraine, the Russian government immediately blamed “Western forces.” Last June, when protestors occupied the streets of Istanbul, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan blamed a foreign conspiracy to destabilize his government. In the Arab World, Mubarak, Morsi, and Sisi all blamed foreign hands for Egypt’s political instability. The Syrian regime accused “Zionist-Western forces” of paying protesters the equivalent of $20 to take to the streets.
All these governments and regimes blame others for the unrest in their countries—but why?
They do it to undermine, justify, and unite.
A correspondent on Russiya 24 argued that protests in Hong Kong were organized by the U.S because it’s very “unlikely” that the protestors, mainly students, learned “how to turn on their mobile-phone screens simultaneously for an effective image. It’s unlikely that people of school age came up with the elegant idea of bringing umbrellas.” The first argument a corrupt government will advance is that the people aren’t smart enough to start protests. This offends protestors, and undermines their ability to create a Facebook group, organize a protest, and yell at the top of their voices in front of a government ministry. Saying that the people aren’t capable of organizing a protest implies that they received outside help. For citizens at home watching state television, protestors getting help from foreign governments and incapable of organizing it themselves only means that they shouldn’t be taken seriously.
In the eyes of the public, if these protestors are puppets of foreign conspiracies, then the government would have an excuse to suppress the protests. It becomes a matter of national security, and the nation (at least those who support the government) will be galvanized, and united against this threat. The government needs to secure support from the rest of the population, and this is done by giving the impression that they need the government’s protection against a foreign threat. Not only would suppressing the protests be justified, but they would also have the support to suppress the protests.
When protestors are chanting, corrupt governments have to undermine, justify, and unite for one very simple reason: in order to stay alive. If the governments are legitimate, and have nothing to fear, peaceful protestors will be protected, and their demands addressed. Corrupt governments, however, are only reminded by protests that their systems have weak foundations, and will crumble anytime soon. The instinctive reaction is always fight or flight, and when their existence is threatened, these governments will go to great lengths to stay in power—starting by blaming foreign powers.
Protests aren’t always successful, but they’re always a symptom of change. Governments that belittle their people and blame other governments for their failures don’t like change, and will fabricate as many conspiracy theories as possible to justify suppressing the voice of the people.
So what can we take away from this? If a government begins blaming global conspiracies for civil unrest and popular disapproval, that’s when you know it’s doomed to fail, and that change is on the way.