A new round of street protests caused a military coup in Cairo, resulting in the ouster of the democratically elected president Mohammed Morsi. This is the latest outcome of the global wave of revolutions from the street. It's hard to say whether Egypt's lesson will raise hopes for political campaigns on the streets of developing countries, or cause a moment of reflection.
How should such popular movements be viewed? Many hold it's a form of direct democracy. However, given its variability in different countries, making a uniform definition of it is difficult.
Street protest is not a mainstream means of political movement in developed countries, such as the US and the European countries, any longer. Instead, it is favored by political groups to express their special political demands. Street movements in those countries now can cause little destruction in politics. They may bring trouble to social governance and in maintaining security, but the nation has the ability to control the movement's scale and influence.
However, it's a different picture in many developing countries, where street movements easily evolve into mainstream political struggle and even revolution. What happened in Egypt is a typical example. Demonstrations in Tahrir Square triggered the revolution that overthrew the regime of former president Hosni Mubarak, then the struggle turned to target the interim government. After the general elections, Tahrir Square became the main battle position for the opposition to Morsi. It's foreseeable that the Muslim Brotherhood that backs Morsi and its allies will become the primary protesters in the streets in the near future.
The struggle of different political forces heavily relies on street movements, for one thing, some developing countries don't have smooth legal channels for political expression; for another thing, although some countries boast of their seemingly-sound democratic system, decisions made through the system lack authoritativeness.
Street movements are contagious. Since they occupy the moral high ground of "direct democracy," how to handle it is a test for the government. Once mistakenly handled, support on the government will be quickly shrunk.
When various political forces take advantage of the power of street protests, the constitution of the country in fact is paralyzed and it's inevitable that the street politics will develop violently. Developing countries should realize the final solution of seeking political expression and struggle within the framework of the constitution.
Political cohesion and the ability of social governance are both important for a country's stability and development. Most developing countries are built upon different ethnic groups and forces that are tied up together. Competitive elections and street movements could easily break the bonds and lead society into turbulence.
The political damage caused by street movements nowadays is bigger than their positive influences. There are already many available means to express demands, and developing countries shouldn't stick to the outdated tool of street movements. They need to make political innovations. Otherwise, they will remain in the downstream of world politics and never be comparable with developed countries.