Monday, January 31, 2011

Revolution #9

Fidel Castro in 1959.
Dreaming about revolutions, images of secretive underground meetings in Nazi Germany come to mind.  A young Fidel Castro in jungle hideouts plotting against the Batistas. Renegades part of the “resistance.” People willing to kill or be killed.  Ordinary people ready to sacrifice everything.  People who fight revolutions have nothing left to lose. 

Those protesting government rule in Tunisia were part of the widely young, unemployed population.  In Egypt nearly half of the population lives on less than $2 a day, a large majority of those are under thirty years old.  Young people do not yet have wives and kids to protect.  They don’t own houses and have yet to establish themselves in the working world.  Without livelihoods, or even the mere prospect of reaping a future paycheck, people grow desperate.  The alternative of death becomes more appealing than having police forces take away your fruit stand.  Hunger, rather than fire, is a much slower way to die.

Youth populations in Arab countries and Egyptian youth unemployment statistics.
Click graphic to enlarge.
* Graphic credited to

Desperation leads to people acting out of necessity.  For a revolution to take place, the consequences of inaction must be worse than the repercussions of action.  In Egypt, the government in power since 1981 has recently been flirting with the idea of lifting food and petroleum subsidies to levels the population cannot afford.  The national budget wanes while the costs of food imports rise.  Hungry, demoralized citizens become restless.  Last month in Bolivia, the widely popular Movement Toward Socialism government quickly fell from favor when it abruptly lifted similar national subsidies the majority of the country depends upon for survival.  In reaction to strikes and protests, President Morales was forced to re-impose these budget-draining measures.

Protests in Cairo, Egypt
The effects of the financial crisis continue to ripple from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, the Persian Gulf, and the Red Sea.  Commodity costs have risen.  Governments push for financial austerity while their stability brassily caves in.  Bankrupting nations try to cut expensive subsidies, yet people depend on numerous entitlement programs. 

In the past, Arab dictatorships managed to stay afloat because the governments themselves were heavily subsidized by oil revenue and foreign assistance.  Politicians skimming from the top of public funds were left unopposed.  But today this unsustainable scheme of systematic corruption is in clear conflict with the basic necessities of populations.  While financially struggling governments elect to cut essential subsidies, the people push for cuts in corruption, ie, a purge of the crooked robber baron dictatorships.  Opulence in the face of unaffordable food prices, exorbitant transportations costs, and high unemployment is finally so intolerable that people are desperately fighting.

There are three likely outcomes in Tunisia and Egypt: shifts towards democracy, re-runs with new military dictators, or sieges of religious fundamentalists.  Unfortunately, with only one in three odds, strong national wills will have to fight in order to avoid succumbing to anything other than positive democratic change.  Crossed fingers from people who always have food on the table will be insufficient to successfully bring about the needed change.  Desperation must be greater than the pain inflicted by bullet wounds.  Evidently, in Tunisia and Egypt, desperation has reached its breaking point.  In a NYTimes article, an Egyptian protestor claimed, “We cannot be silent about what has happened.  Silence is a crime.  The blood of those who fell cannot be wasted.”  Egyptians now flood the streets to defend their rights and demand representative leadership. 
A million man march is scheduled tomorrow in the most populous city in the Arab world, Cairo.  Desperation is rising.  The fever is catching.  Contagious revolution is in the air.

For a ground report of the protests in Cairo, Egypt, read, “Date With a Revolution,” by Mansoura Ez-Eldin.

***UPDATE*** The Prime Minister of Jordan just resigned after weeks of protests.  Although the King is still in power, the turmoil is spreading.  REVOLUTION IS IN THE AIR!