A year of discontent: Protests of 2019 toppled world leaders from Bolivia to Sudan

From left, protests in 2019 in Paris, France, in Baghdad, Iraq, and in Hong Kong.
From left, protests in 2019 in Paris, France, in Baghdad, Iraq, and in Hong Kong. Stephane de Sakutin, AFP; Khalid al-Mousily, REUTERS; Danish Siddiqui, REUTERS

Street demonstrations rocked cities around the world in 2019, with some leading to the downfall of longtime leaders who once appeared invulnerable while others put their governments on notice in a year that proved to be one of widespread discontent.


Protesters are demanding the removal of corrupt governments, better living standards, greater freedoms and more rights.

The leaders of Bolivia, Algeria, Lebanon, Iraq and Sudan have been pushed out as a consequence. Elsewhere, such as in Chile and Ecuador, protesters have won concessions from their governments. 

FRANCE 24 takes a look at some of the popular movements that have successfully led to the ouster of political leaders in 2019 – some of them after decades in power.

Map showing countries that had widespread demonstrations in 2019.
Map showing countries that had widespread demonstrations in 2019. FRANCE 24 Infographics


Evo Morales forced out in Bolivia

A wave of protests swept through several Latin American countries in 2019. In Bolivia, Socialist President Evo Morales bowed to pressure from demonstrators and the military, and stepped down on November 10 after 14 years in power. Protesters had accused Morales of rigging the elections.

Mexico offered Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous leader, asylum and he was replaced by Jeanine Anez, a member of the conservative opposition and the deputy head of Senate.

But Morales’s successful ouster did not bring peace to the streets of the capital, La Paz, and other Bolivian cities, which have since seen vast protests by supporters of the former president demanding that he be reinstated.

>> After Morales: Bolivia faces uncertain future as violence rages

Supporters of Bolivian President Evo Morales and opposition supporters clash during a protest after Morales announced his resignation on Sunday, in La Paz Bolivia November 11, 2019.
Supporters of Bolivian President Evo Morales and opposition supporters clash during a protest after Morales announced his resignation on Sunday, in La Paz Bolivia November 11, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins


Hariri steps down in Lebanon

Lebanon’s Saad al-Hariri was pushed to resign in the face of sustained countrywide protests that erupted in mid-October against the ruling elite, which demonstrators blame for widespread corruption and mismanagement, amid the country’s worst economic and financial crisis in decades.

Hariri’s resignation brought down the coalition government, which included the powerful Shiite militant group Hezbollah, backed by Iran.

But although the newly appointed prime minister, Hassan Diab, promised that his government would consist only of independents and experts and not include politicians, protests have not let up. Since President Michel Aoun announced Diab’s nomination, thousands have taken to the streets in Beirut and elsewhere, saying Diab, too, was a member of the corrupt elite.

Diab, 60, a university professor and former education minister, was backed by Hezbollah and its allies, but does not have the support of the main Sunni Muslim groups, including Hariri’s party, although he is Sunni himself.

>> Iran ‘anxious’ as popular movements threaten its influence in Iraq and Lebanon


Iraqi PM Adel Abdul Mahdi resigns

Mass protests have gripped Iraq since October 1, where citizens are demanding an overhaul of a system they see as corrupt and keeping most Iraqis in poverty. More than 450 people have been killed and 20,000 wounded since the rallies began, according to news agencies.

Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s resignation in November has not calmed the movement, as he has remained in office in a caretaker capacity.

Like in Lebanon, protesters have demanded the complete ouster of the ruling class. Iraq is ranked the 12th most corrupt country in the world by watchdog group Transparency International.

On December 26 Iraqi President Barham Salih refused to designate the nominee of an Iran-backed parliamentary bloc for prime minister, saying he would rather resign than appoint someone to the position who would be rejected by protesters.

The protests have shaken the country out of two years of relative calm following the defeat of Islamic State Group insurgents.

“The president has found himself between the rock of the pro-Iran parties and the hard place of the people, but he chose to side with the protesters,” political analyst Ahmed Younis told AFP.

>> Thousands return to the streets in Iraq, defying deadly violence


Algeria ends 20-year rule of President Abedelaziz Bouteflika

After 20 years in power, Algeria's ailing president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, resigned on April 2, shortly after the country's powerful army chief of staff, Ahmed Gaid Salah, demanded that he be declared unfit and leave office "immediately".

Mass protests had erupted in mid-February after Bouteflika announced he would seek a fifth term in office. The 82-year-old president had rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013.

Salah, who went on to serve as the North African country’s behind-the-scenes de facto leader, died of a heart attack on December 23.

But Bouteflika’s removal did not end the discontent in Algeria, where many citizens still view the government as inept, corrupt and unable to manage the flagging economy.

Over 60 percent of the population boycotted elections on December 12, won by Abdelmadjid Tebboune, who had served as prime minister under Bouteflika.

>> In Algeria, political cartoonists turn to social media to protest repression

Demonstrators protest in Algiers, Algeria, on December 12, 2019, against the presidential election.
Demonstrators protest in Algiers, Algeria, on December 12, 2019, against the presidential election. REUTERS - Ramzi Boudina


After 30 years, Sudan ousts President Omar al-Bashir

Mass protests over economic difficulties erupted in Sudan in December 2018, leading to the ouster in April of President Omar al-Bashir after 30 years in power.

But there too, violent demonstrations and deadly clashes continued for several more months, well after Bashir was removed from power, until the military agreed in August to transition the country over to civilian rule.

Sudan’s first post-Bashir government was sworn in in September.

Several cases have been brought against Bashir since his ouster. On December 14, he was sentenced by a Khartoum court to two years in prison for corruption and is being investigated for his role in the 1989 coup that led to his rise to power.

>> EYE ON AFRICA: Sudan's Bashir could face death sentence over role in 1989 coup


Civil unrest elsewhere in the world

As Bolivians demonstrated against Morales, protests swept through other Latin American countries. In Ecuador, weeks of demonstrations by indigenous protesters forced President Lenin Moreno to rescind a decree that would have raised fuel prices.

Riots in Chile led the government to announce a $5.5 million (€5 million) economic recovery plan, while Colombia’s President Ivan Duque continues to feel the heat with ongoing strikes and protests against his government’s economic policies and corruption.

Citizens have taken to the streets in parts of Asia as well. In India, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has cracked down on protests in the face of mass rallies against a citizenship law that excludes Muslims.

Hong Kong has been battered by six months of increasingly violent demonstrations in the toughest challenge to Beijing since Britain handed the semi-autonomous territory over in 1997. Hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets amid growing fears that China is stamping out the city's liberties.

Protests erupted also in Iran in November after the government announced a sharp hike in fuel prices, leading to a three-day crackdown and violent clashes in which at least 304 people were killed, according to Amnesty International.

European countries have also seen their share of mass demonstrations in 2019.

Marking a year since the beginning of the massive Yellow Vest movement, which was sparked by a plan to raise fuel prices, France has more recently been crippled by nationwide transport strikes and large demonstrations over the government’s planned pension reform.

In Spain, thousands marched this year for and against Catalan independence. Meanwhile in Czech Republic, hundreds of thousands have marched against their populist mogul prime minister, Andrej Babis, 30 years after that country’s Velvet Revolution.

The civil unrest continues, even in countries where demonstrations successfully led to the ouster of leaders. It remains to be seen whether new leadership and reforms will be enough to assuage protesters or whether emboldened populations will push even further for change.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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