Sunday, February 20, 2011

Arab Uprisings

by Richard Crews
There are now civil protests in 17 Arab countries across North Africa and Southwest Asia. These represent some 300 million people, nearly 2/3 of the total Arab population of the world.

In 8 of these countries (totaling 150 million people)--
--either the regime has been toppled (Tunisia and Egypt),
--or there are menacing protests (Algeria, Libya, Jordan, Bahrain, Yemen, and Iran).

In the other 9 countries (representing the other 150 million people) there are what The Economist calls "mild protests" (Morocco, Mauritania, Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Palestinian Territories, Lebanon, Kuwait, and Djibouti).

These countries have much in common--
--all of them identify with Arabic culture and use Arabic as a predominant language;
--they have all suffered limited freedoms under dictatorships for many years;
--they have young populations, most with a median age under 25--the median age in 6 of the countries is under 21 (for comparison, the median age in the U.S. is 37);
--most are poor, with GDPs/person under $10,000; the exceptions are Lebanon ($13,000), Libya ($19,000), Bahrain ($24,000), and Kuwait ($41,000)--for comparison, the GDP/person in the U.S. is $47,000.

However, there are significant differences among them--
--literacy rates, according to a U.N. survey, vary from around 90% in Jordan and Bahrain to under 60% in Morocco, Sudan, and Yemen (the literacy rate in the U.S. is 99%)
--unemployment ranges from over 20% in Morocco and Algeria to under 3% in Kuwait (the unemployment rate in the U.S. is 9%)

Most significantly, although they all seek civil freedoms, participation in government, and economic improvement, they are on widely different paths. In several countries there has been brutal, murderous suppression of the uprisings with police firing tear gas and live ammunition into crowds of peaceful demonstrators. In Egypt the army has taken control of the country and may--as it has promised--facilitate democratic reforms, or may--as appears increasingly likely--impose a new military dictatorship.

The Arab world is in turmoil. Changes are in the offing. But the form those changes will take is very uncertain.