Leading article: Aftershocks from a Tunisian earthquake

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The Arab League has long given the impression that there is nothing really wrong in the countries making up its membership that an end to Israeli settlements in occupied land and international recognition of a Palestinian state would not fix. But yesterday's speech by the League's head, Amr Moussa, at the organisation's economic summit in Egypt struck a very different tone. "The Tunisian revolution," he said, "is not far from us... The Arab citizen has entered an unprecedented state of anger and frustration... The Arab soul is broken by poverty, unemployment and general recession."

And rather than blaming the United States or the West in general, he called on the League and individual Arab leaders to take measures to address the ills. The result is a $2bn fund to help mitigate the effects of unemployment, rising food prices and other sources of social tension. Mr Moussa urged "an Arab renaissance" to lift people out of their frustration.

Mr Moussa's speech, and the seeming alacrity with which national leaders chipped in with contributions, starting with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, demonstrates how quickly and clearly the message from Tunisia has been heard. The timing of the summit so soon after the overthrow of president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was coincidental, but salutary. The shadow of the unrest in Tunisia loomed large. Yet it was not only the future of Tunisia that exercised Arab leaders, but their own fates too.

Such concern, while belated, is well founded. It is true that all countries in the region are different, but to a greater or lesser degree they share many of Tunisia's characteristics. They have very young populations; there is high unemployment, rampant corruption, gross disparities of wealth and education and negligible civic freedoms – all topped off recently by soaring food prices. Everywhere this is an explosive mix, and popular rage is not something that money alone – certainly not the $2bn so far pledged by the Arab League – will extinguish.

How the Tunisian revolution will play out is still uncertain. What the Arab League summit shows is that this uncertainty has spread far beyond that one country's borders.