Patrick Cockburn: Troubles like these are brewing all over the Middle East

Analysis

Share
Related Topics

Is it a real revolution in Tunisia or will another member of the ruling elite succeed in replacing President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali who took flight yesterday?

It is a crucial question for the rest of the Arab world where other corrupt police states face the same political, social and economic problems as Tunisia.

A striking feature of the whole Middle East for more than 30 years has been the unpopularity of the regimes combined with their depressing ability to stay in power. Most have found ways of preventing revolutions or military coup d'etats through ferocious security services protecting rickety state machines that mainly function as a source of jobs and patronage.

In Tunisia, Mr Ben Ali, along with other Arab leaders, presented himself as an opponent of Muslim fundamentalism and therefore won tolerance if not plaudits in Western capitals.

But the revolution that is brewing across the Middle East is of a traditional model springing from high unemployment, particularly among better educated young men, and a ruling class unable to resolve any of their countries' economic problems. The most obvious parallel with Tunisia is Egypt where the sclerotic regime of President Hosni Mubarak clings to power.

Will the present so-called "soft coup" work whereby Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi takes power and calms down protesters by promises of reform and elections? It does not look very likely. The declared State of Emergency is not working. There is not reason to suppose that a political leader so closely associated with the old regime will have any credibility with people in the streets.

Conditions vary across the Arab world but there is plenty in common between the situation in Tunisia and that in Algeria, Jordan and Egypt. Economic and political stagnation is decades old. In some states this is made more tolerable by access to oil revenues, but even this is not enough to provide jobs for educated youths who see their path blocked by a corrupt elite.

There are echoes of the Tunisian crisis in other countries. In Jordan the security forces have been battling rioters in Maan, a traditional site of unrest in the past where the government has difficulty coping. In Kuwait there was an attack by security forces in December on academic and members of parliament. Food prices have been going up.

Yet all these regimes that are now in trouble had a carefully cultivated image in the west of being "moderate" and anti-fundamentalist. In the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, President George Bush and Tony Blair made much of their democratic agenda for the Middle East, but when one of the few democratic elections to take place in the region produced victory for Hamas among the Palestinians of Gaza and the West Bank, the US did everything to thwart the outcome of the poll.

The Middle East still has a reputation for coups but a striking feature of the region since the early 1970s is how few of the regimes have changed. The forces behind the Tunisian events are not radically new but they are all the more potent for being so long suppressed.

Western governments have been caught on the hop because explosions of social and economic frustration have been long predicted but have never happened. The extent of the uprising is yet to be defined and the Tunisian army evidently hopes that the departure of Mr Ben Ali may be enough for the government to restore its authority. The generals could be right, but the shootings over the last month failed to work. There is no particular reason why the same tactics should start to work now.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

 

Ed Miliband's conference speech must show Labour has a head as well as a heart

Patrick Diamond
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments