For three weeks, tens-of-thousands of French protesters have donned yellow vests and marched throughout Paris. While the "yellow vest" movement began on November 17 as a grassroots protest against president Emmanuel Macron's gas tax - levied in the name of climate change, it has morphed into a general rage against the French government in general at a time when Macron's approval rating is at an all time low.
What's more, the movement is spreading - with yellow vest demonstrations seen in Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands by those expressing frustration over similar issues. The protests have turned violent, as disaffected rioters have been setting cars on fire, causing structural damage, and assaulting the police.
Riot cops in Brussels, for example, were pelted with billiard balls, cobblestones and other hard objects last week, while the yellow vest movement is now working to form a Belgian political party under the name Mouvement citoyen belge.
What's behind the movement?
French authorities have predictably blamed the right-wing for the protests - with interior minister Christophe Castaner denouncing National Rally (*formerly National Front) leader Marine Le Pen of encouraging the violence.
"Marine Le Pen urged people to come to the Champs Elysees, and there are members of the ultra-right putting up barriers," said Castaner, adding "They have responded to Marine Le Pen's call and want to take the institutions of state. We want people to be responsible."
The real cause, however, may be quite a bit more nuanced and a long time coming. As political commentator Kark Sharro suggests in a seven-part tweetstorm, the Yellow Vest movement is "about marginalsation and the impotence felt by ordinary people."
An organic, leaderless protest movement with no clear ideology has emerged in France. I've been waiting for this since 2011. Let me explain the French Spring to you.— Karl Sharro (@KarlreMarks) December 1, 2018
Firstly, why the colour yellow? In traditional French culture, yellow represents the Mediterranean regions of France which always felt oppressed by Paris. These protests represent ancient regional grievances.— Karl Sharro (@KarlreMarks) December 1, 2018
Secondly, why the vests? In the French psyche, the lack of arms represents 'helplessness'. The protests are about marginalisation and the impotence felt by ordinary people.— Karl Sharro (@KarlreMarks) December 1, 2018
A respected Lebanese anthropologist has studied the protests and concluded that the burning of cars represents 'anger'. These protesters appear to be unhappy about something, and it's more than just typical French grumpiness.— Karl Sharro (@KarlreMarks) December 1, 2018
In overturning cars the yellow vests are symbolically overturning the entire Cartesian premise of France. This is not merely against the authoritarian Macron but a revolt against the centuries old republican order.— Karl Sharro (@KarlreMarks) December 1, 2018
Experts are already warning of a 'domino effect' leading the protests to spread from France to neighbouring countries. In all of this it's not clear how we in the East should respond, aside from calling on the French authorities to respect the right to protest.— Karl Sharro (@KarlreMarks) December 1, 2018
Lastly, and I say this with supreme delight as a Middle Eastern person, it's clearly all about the oil.— Karl Sharro (@KarlreMarks) December 1, 2018