Arab leaders warn of more revolts amid growing anger

Summit agrees $2bn aid for region as family of Tunisia's former president is arrested

Tunisia yesterday began the search for the millions of pounds believed to have been stolen by the country's ousted leader and his family as Arab leaders were warned that dire economic conditions could provoke a Tunisian-style revolt elsewhere in the region.

Switzerland also moved to freeze assets linked to the former president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, and around 40 others linked to the regime. Mr Ben Ali and his wife Leila Trabelsi, who fled the country last Friday after widespread and violent public protests, are alleged to have accumulated a fortune of £2.2bn during his 23-year rule. Their relations are also accused of gaining vast fortunes through illicit means.

Protests continued around the country yesterday against members of the embattled new government with links to the old regime. In its latest concession, the leadership headed by Mr Ben Ali's long- standing Prime Minister announced that, in a "gesture of reconciliation", around 1,800 prisoners serving sentences of less than six months were being freed. Moves against Mr Ben Ali's family were also made with the arrest of 33 of his relatives on suspicion of "crimes against Tunisia".

In Geneva, the United Nations' human rights commissioner, Navi Pillay, said an assessment team was being sent to Tunisia to start work on charting abuses during the current disturbances during which, the UN estimates, around 100 people have been killed.

The events in Tunisia have inspired similar demonstrations elsewhere in the region, often at the risk of violent crackdowns by powerful security forces that are quick to stamp out dissent. In Algeria, thousands have marched the streets to vent their anger at rising food prices, while Jordanians have staged demonstrations against high unemployment. Egypt, Oman, Yemen and Libya have all witnessed large-scale protests.

"The Tunisian revolution is not far from us," said Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab League, at a meeting of the organisation in the Egyptian resort of Sharm-el-Sheikh. "The Arab citizen has entered an unprecedented state of anger and frustration." The Egyptian diplomat's remarks were a stark warning to Arab leaders to address despair at high unemployment, soaring food prices and other economic woes. "The Arab soul is broken by poverty, unemployment and general recession," Mr Moussa said. "This is on the mind of all of us."

Few believe that a Tunisian-style revolt will sweep across the region tomorrow, in part because of the difficulty in channelling economic frustrations into a political strategy. Protesters and the political opposition are nevertheless emboldened.

The street vendor who triggered the Tunisian revolt when he set himself on fire after police confiscated his stall has sparked a wave of copycat self-immolations. At least 12 people have set themselves on fire – seven of them in Algeria, three in Egypt – in the past week.

Claire Spencer, head of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Chatham House, described Mr Moussa's comments as a "wake-up call" to the region. "It's a warning to say that some of the pressure on the population has to be lifted," she said.

In an attempt to provide some relief to troubled economies, the Arab League countries said they would back a $2bn (£1.2bn) aid programme. The fund will go towards creating job opportunities at a time when the Arab world is experiencing an "unprecedented historical crisis," said the Kuwaiti ruler, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah.

The fund won only limited backing when it was set up last year, mainly from the oil-rich Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Governments have been more forthcoming with their contributions in light of the upheaval in Tunisia, not least because the economic problems that sparked the riots, such as high unemployment, are similar to those experienced elsewhere in the region.

The League also committed to investing in Arab youth – "the most precious of all our resources and wealth" said the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who chaired the summit yesterday. "The issue of unemployment will remain at the top of all challenges."

But analysts warned that joblessness could only be tackled through a loosening of state control over the economy, a trend that prevails in many Arab states, and encouraging the growth of a private sector.

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
Small winemakers say the restriction makes it hard to sell overseas
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
News
Clare Balding
peopleClare Balding on how women's football is shaking up sport
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
News
i100
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
Life and Style
fashionThe Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
Sport
Tony Bellew (left) and Nathan Cleverly clash at the Echo Arena in Liverpool
boxingLate surge sees Liverpudlian move into world title contention
Voices
Neil Findlay
voicesThe vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
food + drinkMeat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin