Can social movement be political force? [Part 2]

In order to answer how social movements can be turned into political forces, it is essential to understand the relationship between development and politics. Adrian Leftwich (2002) articulates that politics is a whole spectrum of activities which involved in a conflict, cooperation and negotiation in related to resources whether at local, national or international levels The dominant role of politics in development is not new and it has been one of the major factors in most developing countries. Politics also determined the scale of development, especially in the developing country where political inclination are divided between ruling party and opposition-dominated area. Selective development in this case often occurs and has been undermined the principle of democracy and separation of power. This happened in many developing countries and has become the main obstruction to development. Social movements therefore as a part of development sphere, in many cases, are incapable of distancing themselves from politics.

In Africa for instance, Mogadishu the capital city of Somalia remains as it was before the intervention of foreign power in 1990’s conflict and it has the lowest index of overall governance in the whole African continent.  According to a 2015 report by Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG, 2015), Somalia has not progressed since 2000 in every development’s measurement aspect, such as safety and the rule of law, participation and human rights, sustainable economic opportunity and human development due to internal political instability. Other than that, Hinthada a small and underdeveloped rural area in Myanmar, local politics plays a vital impact in the nation’s return to democracy from the military regime, when the de facto leader of ruling party USDP and former general, U Htay Oo was defeated by a school teacher in 2015 election.  


Struggle Against Discrimination That Turned Into Political Force

African American Civil Rights and Anti-Apartheid Movement’s struggles have produced some of the most searing images in the 20th century’s struggle for human rights. Rosa Parks may not be known to the public before the Montgomery Bus incident, but her defiant to give way to white passenger contributes to growing support to the movement in 1955. It is depressive to realise America needs more than 100 years to realise their independence decree “that all men are created equal” (Abraham Lincoln). The movement was arguably the most important reform movement in American history. The struggle recounts the extraordinary journey which required unfathomable courage and persistent agitation. Meanwhile, sixty black South African that died in 1960’s Sharpeville massacre weren’t able to watch the apartheid regime finally dethroned but their legacy shall be remembered in world’s social movement against apartheid. The anti-apartheid movement successfully turned into the political force with the abolishment of apartheid law which culminated in the first democratic elections being held on 27 April 1994 that took Nelson Mandela as the first black president of the country. Within the similar period, Israel’s illegal land occupation in Palestinian territory that caused race segregation and discrimination, deportations, detentions without trial and extended imprisonment between Jews and non-Jews. Complete dissatisfactions finally prevailed when Palestinian uprising, also known as Intifada emerged in December 1987 and September 2000. The Intifada encourages the establishment of Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), Fatah, Hamas and many other social movements to transformed the demand for liberation and end of occupation into political motivations.

Human Rights Post September 11

The September 11 attacks on the United States’ landmarks, has clearly risen the global emergence of anxiety over the security and stability. As consequent, the Western views on security have changed and therefore, shaped the political and development’s policies, mostly violate human rights directly. The establishment of Patriot Act and global ‘War Against Terror’ led by the United States of America, has globally placed the human rights into immerse jeopardy. The invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 caused massive detentions of unproven guilty prisoners, mostly are Arab descents in Guantanamo Bay Prison in Cuba. The United States’ government has been received international condemnations over allegations of abusive treatment and discrimination of the prisoners. President Obama, on the second day in office, has pledged to close the prison which many seen now driven for his administration’s political mileage and to increase popularity. In relation to that, Close Guantanamo, a social pressure movement is a reaction from the public for United States unjust detention and tortures in Guantanamo prison. The movement has gained numbers of former US high-rank officers such as retired military commanders, retired chief justice, and entertainment celebrities. Close Guantanamo has made their effort politically driven, designating it’s campaign directly toward Obama administration before the end of Obama’s presidency.

The United States’ worldwide pressure to counter terrorism has resulted in human rights abuses increased in other countries. Every politically and the economically strategic country desperately in the desire to prove their commitment to the United States. In a small country of South Asia, a small social movement has turned it demands into national agenda and gained support from mainstream and finally successfully achieved it objective through political pressure. The Abolish ISA Movement (AIM), it was a movement that has exist as early as the 1970s, as a small and undiscovered to the public. It comprises support group of inter families, lawyers and sympathizers to the detainees of the Internal Security Act (ISA), a preventive law that allows detention without trial, inherited from British Colonial law to regress communist subversives in the then Malaya in 1960s. However, in the late 1990s, when the Malaysian government was allegedly using the ISA to suppressed reformation movement led by the then former deputy prime minister and numbers of alleged militants linked to Al-Qaeda and Taliban arguably changed the scenario. The ISA was uncovered and peoples were intriguing to get more information from underneath of the draconian law. More social movements and NGOs pledged support to the AIM movement. The movement became more vigilant after received sympathy and support from various international human right organisations such as Amnesty International. With series of lobbying strategy at the local and international level, public mobilisations, creative social campaigns and parliament’s private bill, AIM managed to organise a massive street protest in the heart of the capital city Kuala Lumpur on August 2010 with nearly 30 thousands participants attended. The government under enormous pressure from the public, newly elected Prime Minister in 2010 pledged to repeal the law.


Emerging Ultras Football Politically Influenced Social Movement

It is quite intriguing to explore social movement in sports, particularly in football as it has the biggest supporters around the world. Although there is little knowledge of these social movements but their appearance in public recently seemed to attract some social researcher to spent a number of years to obtain their information. Within oldest football league such as English and Italian league, the state political behavior without fail has a direct impact in their football inclination. The football “ultras”, defined as radical supporters’ groups have become increasingly visible worldwide, through Testa and Armstrong (2010) inaugural research shows that this ultras concept which was originated within Italian football supporter, particularly in Rome.   Some observers believe that football ultras played significant roles state’s political maneuver in Europe or Africa. Slobodan Milosevic, the then president of former Yugoslavia faced difficulties with football ultras of Crvena Zvezda and Partizan that turned every football match into an anti-Milosevic affair. During Egypt Revolution 2011, football ultras of Al Ahly and Zamalek obviously played important roles in the mass demonstration in Tahrir Square.



Collectively, social movements are capable of turning themselves into the political force. While there is no definite theory in changing, however throughout the history, we have learned that change is started from the individual consciousness which can grow into social awareness. Change can be straight forward but often the case, the journey to it encountered serious impediment. The only thing that might place social movements worldwide into the internal challenge is the ability of social movements to stand by their own principle and to engage their interests without fear being influenced by their own bureaucratisation, which remains as the biggest challenge to their existence.


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