Civil unrest: 2024

Friday, 21 July 2023 marked the end of the school year for most children in the UK. In the city of Manchester, hundreds of kids celebrated not by joining a school ball or local disco, rather they headed to the city centre and ran riot, forcing businesses to close and the local transport system to halt. Will there be more serious civil unrest in 2024?

Some people put the civil unrest in Manchester down to ‘post-COVID payback’; kid’s vengeance for lockdowns. Others suggest it follows a cycle and it’s therefore overdue. However, there’s an increasing number of people who think civil unrest in 2024 will be different and it’s a symptom of a far greater, fundamental threat.

Civil unrest: Inevitable - Image of damage done on 21 July 2023 hundreds of children in the heart of Manchester, UK ended their school year. Instead of heading to a school ball or party, they ran riot, forcing businesses to close and bringing the local transport system to a halt

Footasylum in Manchester, like many shops closed and suffered serious damage.

Why civil unrest matters

Beyond disruption to business as usual, civil unrest attracts the attention of authorities because of its potential to bubble up into something far more serious and spread:

Civil unrest




Authorities’ fear of contagion is not new: in 1793, driven by the fear of civil unrest and republicanism, European monarchs got together and formed the First Coalition, an alliance to defeat the French revolutionaries and reinstate the French Monarchy (they failed). Today, the same fear of contagion is behind much of what the United States does in the Middle East.

ChatGPT tells us civil unrest is:

Referred to as civil disorder or civil disturbance. It’s a broad term that describes any significant disruption to normal social order and public peace due to a group of people acting collectively. This disruption can manifest in various forms, including but not limited to:

  1. Protests: Demonstrations or gatherings, usually peaceful, where people express their dissent or support for a particular cause or issue.
  2. Riots: Violent disturbances by a group of people, often involving destruction of property, clashes with law enforcement, and sometimes resulting in injuries or fatalities.
  3. Strikes: A work stoppage caused by the mass refusal of employees to work, usually to protest working conditions, pay, or other employment-related matters.
  4. Rebellions or Revolts: More organized and prolonged forms of resistance against authority, often with the aim of overthrowing or significantly changing the existing order.
  5. Blockades or Occupations: Situations where people take control of a particular area or facility, preventing its normal use or operation.

The causes of civil unrest can vary widely, ranging from economic grievances, political dissatisfaction, social injustices, to cultural or religious issues. The methods and intensity of civil unrest can also vary, from non-violent protests and civil disobedience to violent clashes and full-scale insurrections.

    What does the data say?

    Lifetimes could be spent on this subject. To quickly get context I’ve looked at three sources:

    1) Google’s Ngram Viewer 

    The Google Ngram Viewer chart to the right displays the frequency of terms used in published books, 2004 – 2019 (latest date available).

    Since 2010 ‘Protest’ is written about more but ‘civil unrest’, ‘revolt’ and ‘riot’ show little shift in usage. 


    2) Google search terms

    The Google Search Term chart to the right shows the popularity of Google search terms worldwide from January 2004 to November 2023. ‘Civil unrest’ is excluded as it hardly registers as a search term. The large spike in ‘protest’ and ‘riot’ can be attributed to COVID19. 

    Overall, as with the Ngram viewer, protest appears more frequently, with riot also on the rise.

    Protest Riot Revolt Google Search terms for civil unrest Jan 2004 to November 2023

    3) States of emergency

    The UN’s Human Right Commission has a procedure that nations should follow if they wish to declare a state of emergency (Article 4 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights). The UN records these declarations and makes their records available to the public. As a result, its offers a sense of civil unrest from the authorities’ view point.

    Below is Professor. Andrej Zwitter’s State of Emergency Mapping Project‘s visualisations, based on UN data:

    State of emergency declared global map 1995 - 2014

    The bar chart to the right uses the same data to display number of declarations by nation, 1995 – 2015. It shows Peru often reports states of emergency whereas in Europe, only France has declared a state of emergency.

    Because different countries have different notions of state of emergency, this source needs context. For example, since 1948 Israel has not declared a state of emergency.

    The chart also strips out man made and natural disasters; COVID19 would be classified a natural disaster. In many respects, COVID19 lockdowns severely curtailed social norms yet there was little civil unrest. Undoubtedly, government’s willingness to pay people to stay at home avoided riots and protests.

    In conclusion, the data suggests worldwide, civil unrest in its fullest form (state of emergency) is not rare. Moreover, protest is on the rise.

    Reported state of emergency 1994 - 2015 by country

    What do the experts say?

    In the Economist Joel Budd writes Many Britons expect an outbreak of civil disorder in 2023‘, owing to social discontent, namely:

    • Economics – cost of living crisis
    • Poor police behaviour
    • People think they can get away with it

    In addition, civil unrest hasn’t happened for a while and therefore, its consequences have been forgotten.

    Economist Joel Budd writes 'Many Britons expect an outbreak of civil disorder in 2023',

     As a result, a new cohort of rioters are due and if not in 2023 then maybe there will be civil unrest in 2024. All this could help explain the Manchester kid’s riot. However, the article does not suggest a full blown insurrection is on the cards, for that we need to look to the US.

    Ray Dalio

    Ray Dalio is a US investor who made his billions through making bets on the future. He gives a 40% chance of civil war in the US. However, he does not suggest civil war necessarily results in violence. But it does mean power trumps the rule of law.

    Dalio’s dark prediction is down to his five mega trends, all of which destabilise the US:

    Ray Dalio image - civil unrest, civil war owing to 5 mega trends

    1) Debt: Huge debt pile and the need to raise interest rates unsettles the financial system

    2) Internal conflict: Rising inequality and populism leads to polarisation and disputes

    3) External conflict: Rising tensions with China as it vies for pre-eminence with the US 

    4) Technology: Artificial intelligence threatens jobs

    5) Climate change: Existential risk posed by climate change

    In addition, because the US has more firearms than people, civil unrest has the potential to quickly escalate. And, if you’re looking for a tipping point, the incarceration of a former US President would be a good reason for civil unrest in 2024.

    Civil unrest: 2024

    Many commentators agree conditions for civil unrest are favourable and it ‘feels’ more likely than for many years. However, the 2021 storming of Capital Hill showed us the difference between civil unrest and a successful insurrection is vast. Therefore, conditions will need to deteriorate some way further before the worst is realised.

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