Monday, January 31, 2011

Revolution and the disposesed elites

As I have noted previously, a system under stress can maintain some form of cohesion almost indefinitely provided its elite groups maintain ranks.  When one of the previously "inside" groups feels that it is no longer receiving its due share, trouble begins.

Thus it is in Tunisia:
Ben Ali's fate may have been sealed when military officers -- who had been marginalized by the regime as it lavished money on family members and corrupt business elites -- demonstrated a willingness to stand down and protect protesters from the police and internal security services.  from Michael Koplow, Why Tunisia's Revolution is Islamist Free. Foreign Policy.  Hat tip Naked Capitalism
And as to the underlying causes.

Providing cheap food to the masses is part of an unwritten pact between Arab dictators and their people. Since the 1950s, authoritarian Arab regimes have committed to distributing subsidized food staples such as bread, milk and eggs to their populations in exchange for political quiescence…

Antiquated and inefficient subsidy systems from Rabat to Riyadh are now buckling under the pressure of record-high global food (and fuel) prices. Arab governments face the dilemma: absorb the extra costs of food inflation into national subsidy programmers at the risk of deepening budget deficits, or permit domestic food prices to rise at the risk of social unrest.

Tunisia appears to have chosen unwisely.

Of course, food inflation is not a problem on its own. It is the combustible mixture of poverty, high unemployment, economic disparity, and rising living costs that has turned the region into a powder keg.

Arab Labor Organization (ALO) figures show that Arab countries have among the highest unemployment rates in the world – an average of 14.5 percent in fiscal year 2007/08 compared with the international average of 5.7 percent. The rates may even be higher if one accepts unofficial estimates.
According to national figures, more than 20 percent of Egyptians live on less than two dollars per day, the UN-recognized poverty threshold. In Algeria, about 23 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, while in Morocco it is 14.3 percent, in Tunisia it is 12.8 percent, and in Yemen the rate exceeds 45 percent. from Cam McGrath, Arib Regimes Fear Bread Intifadah, IPS.
If you replace statements like "cheap food to the masses" with Wal-mart, and "authoritarian regime" with Wall Street financed Oligarchy, you might begin to see a continuum from where the Arabs are and where we are.

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