Incident: Azerbaijan is experiencing an unusual amount of unrest as protesters take a stance against corruption and challenge the authority of Azerbaijani strongman Ilham Aliyev, who has responded with a brute force that is likely to backfire and trigger a stronger protest momentum.
Bottom Line: A series of protests that turned violent in some areas and triggered a social-media-inspired solidarity response in Baku are first and foremost about corruption in a country whose immense oil riches have failed to trickle down to the general population. With presidential elections set for October 2013, Azerbaijan should be monitored for increasing signs of potential revolt and destabilization similar to that seen across the Middle East.
Analysis: For four weeks, protests have continued, on and off. While the authorities are quick to insist that these protests are not specifically targeting the rule of Ilham Aliyev and his cult of personality, they are anti-regime in nature because they focus almost singularly on corruption. The opposition political parties may see a window of opportunity to better organize and expand their power base with the intensifying protests. The protest movement is being led so far by young urban residents who are using social media to organize effectively. Importantly, 40% of Azerbaijan’s population is under 24 years old and social media is their key tool. It is also a major target for attack by the authorities, who recognize the risk, targeting bloggers and social media “activists” with arrests and fines.