I recently read an article in Le Monde Diplomatique. I found the article interesting, though I couldn’t help feeling irritated by the, not so uncommon, French finger pointing towards the US. So I took to reading into the recent/current happenings in Tunisia and Egypt myself to try to make my own sense of what this might mean for the situation in Europe.
Now lets get one thing clear, what happened on December 17th in Sidi Bouzid was tragic… This act of desperation is an indication that things have gone way too far, in a country that has been very clearly in the international spotlight for a while now. Unbelievably, we are all happy NOT to ask ourselves how our H&M tops remain at €4.99, as ignorance saves us having to think about the sad realities that poor Mohamed Bouazizi and his family lived through every day.
I’d just like to shoot something back at Le Monde Diplomatique… Why insist so much on the US support for these regimes, when French minister are quietly accepting gifts (from Tunisia AND Egypt) and showing their support for them? Perhaps we deserve a little neutrality?!
The state of the economy in both of the aforementioned is clearly the biggest factor in the unrests, but what sparked people to go to the streets and mobilise? Many articles seemed to have simplified this to the combination of the Economic situation and heavy handed politics that are losing their grip… something that I would like to any reader to reconsider.
One Foreign Policy article explains how WikiLeaks could also be somewhat responsible:
"Shortly before the December protests began, WikiLeaks released internal US State Department communications in which the American ambassador described Ben Ali as aging, out of touch, and surrounded by corruption." … "These revelations contributed to an environment that was ripe for a wave of protest that gathered broad support."
Although it angers me to think that some might suggest that it better that we are not told the truth, I still read many interesting points in the article, but I still think that people are missing something that all these truths just build upon: the gap between the have and the have nots!
I looked closely at some figures to see if :
"… unemployment among university graduates in Sidi Bouzid ranges between 25 and 30 percent."
Anyone hear Spain? I have heard the same figures quoted for regions of Spain, where protest have also been firing up, though they remain relatively peaceful. I do believe, however, that there is another factor, another imbalance, that we are not seeing…
A lot of us must be wondering: Why nobody saw this coming?
Now I understand that we are getting back to Economic pressures here… but I think that this rage is caused by the injustices that people feel have been made against them: falsified figures that don’t show their true hardship, uneven wealth distribution, corrupt politicians… this is the stuff that gets the blood boiling! Like the naked emperor, there seems to be a lot of denial in the air!
Living in Berlin, I have come to appreciate that it is not a rich city, however, it is increasingly becoming like many other cities in Europe, where fairly central locations are no longer within reach of the people who were born here and these price rises are impacting people in different ways. Those who can afford life in the city are worried that prices only ever go up, those who feel they could be next are starting to stand up to the authorities and protest.
Having lived in London, where the situation is much further along than Berlin and you need a very good job to live NEAR the city, I wonder how long before they start to get out and tell the government about the justice they want to see made - after all, the bonuses will be rolling out of tax payers bank accounts and into those of bankers soon! Expect a few more tube strikes when that happens!
Knowing how the French have a penchant for protest (I had to get that in!) and having friends struggling to make ends meet in France, it’s a wonder that the streets are not already on fire with protests against foreign/private property owners, bankers and the governments recent capers! Even the Italians have dared to question their love affair with plastic surgery/flimsily clad teenager/football/media - loving prime minister lately!
What does this have to do with Egypt and Tunisia?
Well, “finally”, you might say! All of the above says to me, that we all need to be worried in these precarious times… this is no West vs. East, Allies vs. Terrorists battle of the ideologies. This is a time when, as in Egypt and Tunisia, those in need are looking to the state for their own hand-outs, something to help them through tough times… People are increasingly having to deal with the reality that they are just too small to save and not too big to fail (just as normal Tunisians realised that the were not on the guest list for their leaderships’ party) and the injustice of this is making them mobilise…
I fear not for control, I fear for the Economic impact and it’s inevitable hit on the lives of those not privy to the bailouts! Tunisia may be able to turn a new page and start looking at positive steps to improve their situation, Egypt may also be striving for that, however, Algeria, Iran and others are also becoming restless and when people down their tools, they are no longer building for the future!
As for Europe… a negative quarter of growth in the UK means that they can’t afford more disruption and you have to wonder if other countries will also feel the pressure from their statistics. Bankers are set to receive bonuses close to the highs of recent years, yet people are still struggling to pay mortgages on record low interest rates and last figures I saw for the car industry in the UK was that sales in January were down over 11%!
The UK government have a good excuse - Labour… just blame them! However, Germany and France, the big players of the Eurozone have creaking governments (with a few years under their belts already) and should things get any worse, I fear we could see similar scenes in Europe, where the big difference is that government is too strong to fail, but too weak to move towards any constructive measures to overcome the situation.
Lets just hope I’m wrong!