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
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Property
house + home
Arts and Entertainment
tvGame of Thrones season 5 ep 4, review - WARNING: contains major spoiliers!
Life and Style
Bats detect and react to wind speed and direction through sensors on their wings
tech
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
News
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Sport
football
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living