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The Message Behind Hamburg Protests
Leadership forums like the G20 should better address people's desire for a more equitable world order
By Sajjad Malik | NO. 29 JULY 20, 2017
Journalists gear up to report on the G20 Summit at the press center in Hamburg, Germany, on July 6 (XINHUA)

The G20 Summit in the German city of Hamburg will be remembered for both the disagreements among the leaders of the 20 members in the conference hall over issues like climate change and the violent protests outside.

The participants were upset at the withdrawal of the United States, represented in Hamburg by President Donald Trump, from the Paris climate change agreement. But their frustration injected a greater sense of purpose, and they succeeded in isolating and cornering Trump.

The G20 went ahead minus Trump to announce support for the Paris deal. The leaders also decided against any kind of "renegotiation" of the agreement signed in Paris in 2015 though Trump had previously suggested a revised version could make him change his mind.

There was greater unity of purpose outside the meeting venue as thousands of protesters fought a pitched battle with riot police to highlight what they regarded as the real issues facing people around the globe, issues often ignored at the multilateral gatherings of powerful leaders.

The real cause for anger was the increasing economic and social vulnerability of ordinary people in the world. Despite an increase in per-capita income and global economic output, millions still live below the poverty line.

Jobs are becoming insecure due to economic fluctuations. The cost of healthcare, education, housing and utilities is becoming out of reach while the number of millionaires and billionaires is increasing.

There was a time when people believed they could change inefficient rulers through the vote. However, now rich individuals and powerful lobbies have the final say. Money coupled with strong-arm tactics and increasing cohesion among the global elite is squeezing the space for ordinary people. The result is a rich minority living in luxury, not caring about the vast majority with little or limited resources.

The G20 typifies this trend, as it represents one third of the world population, but controls more than 80 percent of economic resources.

That is why people are angry and expressing their outrage whenever they get a chance. They desire a more equitable world order and stage protests at the venues where leaders of rich nations meet to decide future policies.

The disturbing part was the uncontrolled violence, as some of the protesters resorted to arson and looting, either losing sight of the objective of the struggle or joining it with the aim of causing mischief and committing crimes.

It should be a warning for the world elite. Those taking to the streets are ready to face police, water cannons, teargas and even bullets. They are retaliating with violence wherever possible as they think there is no option except to fight for their rights.

Forums like the G20 should listen to the grievances of the people and adjust their policies accordingly. Otherwise the anger and outrage of the global underdog might become overwhelming.

The author is a journalist based in Pakistan

The article originally appeared on

Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar

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