Overall, though, Americans jaded about world affairs should see the activism as positive. The protesters are performing the same role as middle classes
have in developed nations. As their standard of living rises, so do their expectations of government.
The political dynamic in each country is different, of course. In Turkey, the protests are not the equivalent of the Arab Spring demonstrations that
toppled governments across the Middle East. Nor are they simply a pitched battle between religious conservatives and secular liberals. Instead, they are
deeply Turkish -- and hugely important.
After decades of the Turkish state reigning supreme, young Turks are demanding pluralism and basic individual rights. The Turkish state should be
accountable to the people, they argue, instead of the people being accountable to the state.
"Basic freedoms such as the right to peaceful assembly are undermined by police and government," Alper said in an email. "There have been no significant
repercussions for police officers and their superiors."
For years, Soli Ozel, a professor of International Relations and Political Science at Istanbul Bilgi University, scoffed at Westerners who viewed Turkey as
a model for the Middle East. The new protests, however, make him feel the label may apply.
"After this unprecedented mobilization," he said in a telephone interview, "we now have a very vibrant and very much alive civil society."
Brazil presents a different dynamic.The ruling Workers'
Party is left-leaning and its economic reforms have helped the poor and middle class. But now a souring economy, corruption scandals and $12 billion in
government spending on 2014 World Cup stadiums has sparked one million people to take to the streets.
Marcelo Ridenti, a leading Brazilian sociologist, said reduced inequality and increased education have raised expectations. The number of university
students in Brazil, for example, doubled from 2000 to 2011.
"This generates huge changes in society, including changes in expectations among young people," he
told the New York Times
. "They expect to get not only jobs, but good jobs."
Recent events in Iran are more difficult to discern. While Brazil and Turkey's political systems are relatively open, Iran's is tightly controlled. Until
last weekend's presidential election, hard-line religious leaders seemed to have tightened their grip on power after crushing the country's 2009 Green
In a surprise result, cleric Hassan Rohani won a sweeping victory in
presidential elections last weekend. Pro-reform and urban Iranians frustrated with the country's weak economy, isolation and conservative monopoly on power
apparently handed Rohani the presidency. Rohani may prove to be more conservative than
expected, but his victory prompted thousands of Iranians to take to the streets.