Civil disorder, also known as civil unrest or civil strife, is a broad term that is typically used by law enforcement to describe one or more forms of disturbance caused by a group of people. Civil disturbance is typically a symptom of, and a form of protest against, major socio-political problems; the severity of the action coincides with public expression(s) of displeasure. Examples of civil disorder include, but are not necessarily limited to: illegal parades; sit-ins and other forms of obstructions; riots; sabotage; and other forms of crime. It is intended to be a demonstration to the public and the government, but can escalate into general chaos.
Frequently, participants in a civil disorder are not in agreement about appropriate behavior. As was the case in the WTO Meeting of 1999, most protesters were peaceful, and a small, highly visible minority were responsible for most of the damage. Any civil disorder is a delicate balance of power, and indeed, a political power struggle of some sort is typically the root cause of any such conflict. Often, public demonstrations are viewed as the last resort of political organizations. If the power equation in a civil disorder becomes unbalanced, the result is either oppression or riot.
Citizens not directly involved in a civil disorder may have their lives significantly disrupted. Their ability to work, enjoy recreation and in some cases, obtain necessities may be jeopardized. Disruption of intrastructure may occur during very severe events. Public utilities such as water, fuel and electricity may be temporarily unavailable, as well as public infrastructure for communication. Occasionally, the disruption of such services may be the original cause of the disorder. More frequently, the cause of such issues is related to economic stagnation, severe inflation, devaluation of currency, disasters man made or natural, severe unemployment, oppression, political scandal, or, in some countries, sporting events. Civil disorder can occur in any country and environment. Switzerland, a country known for its neutrality, suffered from much civil unrest in the weeks prior to its October 2007 elections.