The upheaval started in December 2010 by a Tunisian street hawker Mohammed Bouazizi who set himself in fire without knowing that it would herald a new era for MENA region. As of June, the unrest caused suprising outcomes from Egypt to Bahrain. Some of them got rid of their dictators (Egypt, Tunusia, Yemen), others (Syria, Libya) still endure the bloodshed. By the time this article was published, conflict in Libya continued with NATO's ongoing military operations, death toll in Syria was rising, the president in Yemen left the country, Egypt and Tunisia was experiencing transitional periods before general elections. To understand the recent events, profiling the protestors is of the utmost importance.
Protesters demanding democracy and freedom are mainly young people who spent all their life under an authoritarian regime. Forced to choose between military and religious autocracy for half century, they have been integrated with the world via internet and social networks. Employing the means of the modern world to access information, these people have faced viciously with concepts such as civil liberties, the rule of law, economic liberalization and freedom of press. Combined with social and economic challenges, a set of chaotic ideas fuelled by these concepts have led to a regime opposition which protestors themselves are unable to explain.
According to Samuel Huntington, the U.S. academic, economic development occurring in conjunction with rapid urbanization, industrialization, improvement in the rate of literacy, facilitation of communication increase political consciousness and demands of political participation. Developments in the field of social media further complicates these inter-connections and demands. The main trigger of the uprising in the region is, therefore, the lack of political mechanisms which generate solutions in the face of the intertwined and complex set of demands such as these. Hence, protesters want to create responsive mechanisms for their requests even though they do not know how to do so.
Egypt and Tunisia are experiencing this challenge today. Both heads of the transformation regime in these countries are from the previous administrations. Muhammed Tantawi, former Minister of Defense of Egypt, is now heading the interim regime in the country. Likewise, Beji Caid Sebsi who has served Bourgiba and Bin Ali as Minister of Interior and Foreign Affairs once, now occupies the Prime Minister’s office in Tunisia. It is obvious that people in the streets are having difficulties to put forward new political figures.
It was easier when protest were organized through social media however. Networks such as Facebook and Twitter expedite the upheaval not only within countries but also between them. We have witnessed that the pre-revolution process which took 100 years in French Revolution and 10 years in the unrest on the Soviet Bloc, ended in six months. Still, pointing the social media as the source of the unrest is not true. As much as its effect is undeniable, the social media could only be considered as a tool to organize and mobilize people. It could not be the main reason behind all of these.
So what is? Thousands of articles present a myriad of motivations; totalitarian regimes replete with repression and intolerance, social inequity, corruption, poverty e.t.c. This blog confirms them. However, the question is; which one should we hold responsible; chronic socio-economic problems or the political mechanisms which are inadequate to offer remedies for this plight?
Probably the second one. The most effective reason is the deprivation. Deprivation of a government which is responsive to public needs and demands. The ordinary people on the streets did not carry signs indicating economic or social woes, not anti-Israel even which are common in every outburst in the Middle East for 50 years. The signs were about freedom, equality and democracy, not economy or life standards at which these countries already maintain an average level of quality.
Quality of Life
If you examine economic indicators such as GDP, GDP per capita, Gini Co-Efficient e.t.c., you would see that these countries (Egypt, Tunusia, Libya) are above world average. Since 2007, Egypt has almost doubled its GDP, Tunisia similarly experienced a steady growth (except 2009 when the financial crisis hit). Libya (5.5%), Yemen (4.1%), Bahrain (5.6%) and Syria (4.3%) have all enjoyed economic growth through the second half of 2000s. Furthermore, GDP per capita has also increased except the year 2009. Although their income level is below 5000$, Tunisia, Syria, Yemen and Egypt have recorded an upward trend in terms of household income. Bahrain and Libya are even better in these figures. Their GDP per capita are well above 10.000 USD (Libya 11.314$, Bahrain 20.474$).
Furthermore corrupted officials are everywhere, affecting directly the quality of life. Transparency International, an international tackler against corruption, considers Yemen, Syria, Egypt and Libya among the worst 30 countries in the world in terms of nepotism and embezzlements. For instance, Illegal Financial Integrity estimates that illegal financial flows from Tunisia have reached 11.6 Billion USD for 8 years period (2000-2008). It is also known that Abidin Bin Ali’s personnel fortune is around 5 Billion Euros whereas Mubarak family’s is above 70 Billion Euros.
The Human Development Index sheds light to another interesting data. According to this UNDP indicator, restive Bahrain (very high human development), Libya (high human development) and Tunisia (high human development) are enjoying good rankings among the countries of the world thanks to the intense investments on education and health in the post 90s era. Combining these data with good economic performance, one can say that people in these countries have already sustained an above-average life quality.
The same quality can not be seen in politics and civil liberties however. Repression of authoritarian regimes replace rule of law with rule of government. Intolerance and corruption become widespread phenomena on people’s daily lives. Media were entirely shut down or intimidated by iron fists of the rulers. According to data from Freedom House, an international NGO based in Washington D.C., Libya and Tunisia ban the free media altogether. In Syria, Egypt and Bahrain, engaging in politics against the government is nearly impossible. There is a strict control mechanisms over civil liberties too
To sum up, the main reason is the lack of political mechanism which is properly designed to respond people’s demands, can overcome bottlenecks in economics and politics and create solutions to chronic social problems. Interestingly in these countries, criticism have grown strong as a result. People are increasingly participate in protests even when there is a good chance to be killed.
Heroes or Villians
This blog believes that this is natural where people who are responsible to provide remedies, become the problem itself. As a consequence, the perception that saving oneself is the only thing that matters, prevails among youth. Amidst this frenzy, young people think that they have no choice but to set themselves in fire. However the darkest moment of the night is just before dawn. These are the times when "heroes" become villians.
Articles you might also like: