The Middle Eastern and North African protests are still the front page of the news for ten weeks. Where and when will it end? Will we see violent protests reach China and Iran?
What began in Tunisia in December quickly put all Middle Eastern and North African regimes on high alert. Stories of violence and massive protests are now daily events. While I am far from an expert on the issue, I have strong opinions on why this has happened and when we will see the climax in this tragedy.
North Africans have been living under corrupt regimes for many years. It is not as if one day Moammar Gaddafi or Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali started embezzeling funds and lived a life disconnected from the life of the masses. They’ve been doing it for years. And more importantly, it’s not as if this was a mystery to their people. They knew of the lavish lifestyles, the private jets, the yachts, but so long as their lives remained relatively happy, they were content.
So why all of a sudden did thousands take the streets? The answer, is food prices. Food prices have been sky-rocketing as surging demand from emerging markets and poor harvests from traditional suppliers have squeezed prices. This has left lower middle class and lower class North Africans struggling to put food on the table. When people’s quality of life is in jeopardy, they respond. In this case, when people go from having food on the table to not, they respond violently.
Another fundamental trigger was the huge disparity between the rich and poor that was concentrated between the young and the old. BBC reports that more than half the 250 million people in the Arab world today are under the age of 25 – but many Arab countries offer their young people little in the way of jobs and involvement in politics.
Rising food prices and political, economic, and social disconnects between rising youth populations and a resistant upper-level governments filled with cronies were the catalysts that really elucidated the wrongdoings of these corrupt leaders. This is no more evident than in Libya and Egypt, where Gaddafi and Mubarak are (were?) reported to have billions of dollars of assets tucked away in various offshore banks across the globe.
In Libya and in Yemen, the process is now irreversible. Government forces have fired upon their own people killing scores. Both countries will see regimes change.
Sticking with the Gulf, Saudi Arabia will see a “day of rage” set for March 11th. If this protest turns violent, this movement will escalate to a level not yet seen.