Youth in Revolt, Worldwide

“Egypt’s problem has nothing to do with a crisis in Muslim-Christian relations, but rather with how all citizens suffer under ubiquitous corruption and oppression. Those who would try to tout this as a sectarian issue do an injustice to the people of Egypt in all their religions.”

Yasir az-Za‘atira, a columnist in al-Dustour, a Jordanian daily.

I have been watching the recent Middle East turmoil with interest. The Tunisian uprising, Egypt demonstrations and protests have ignited quickly and spread rapidly, moving to other countries in the region (Yemen and Algeria.)

What I think is one of the most significant things about these revolts is not the angle most reported in the news- i.e., how Facebook, Twitter and YouTube has helped to organize and mobilize the protests-but how these protests are all fueled by young (20’s-30’s,) educated people (college students and/or recent college graduates have been identified as being among the most vocals dissidents in Tunisia and Egypt.) They vent their frustration and dissatisfaction with widespread government corruption, a lack of future prospects for an economic upturn and an inability to democratically choose who and how to lead the country.

Greece and France on a slightly smaller scale experienced the same type of turmoil within the last year. In the case of the Middle East countries mentioned before, the ruling parties have held power for over two decades.

The world has seen this type of unrest before. In the dawn of the 20th century, there was the same type of unrest in Austria, Russia and Germany. The response of the people at large to dissatisfaction with the ruling elite/monarchy/government at the time a hundred years ago fostered in never before seen change. Bear in mind that the changes weren’t all good; In Russia Communism rose and created an even more totalitarian ruling class than the Bolsheviks; we all know what happened in Germany.

One obvious question is whether this can happen in Jamaica? Let’s bypass for now the question as to whether it should or should not, could it happen?

Haiti aside, political unrest like this is generally foreign to the Caribbean. Last month, prior to the upheavals, the global think-tank the Carnegie Endowment identified “high unemployment triggering social unrest, rapid population rise and slow growth” as the major challenges facing poorer, oil-importing Arab states. The think tank recommended “new export markets, increased manufacturing, better competitiveness and jobs via education and labor-market reform.” This should sound familiar to anyone who has heard the IMF pronouncements of the last year or seen their recommendations to Jamaica. Bear in mind also that the issues and concerns that have been talked about in various media outlets as triggering this recent round of Middle East unrest are the same issues facing many Jamaicans.

With the entire world still staring in the abyss of a recession, and despite the pronouncements of an economic upturn (didn’t we hear that ten months ago too? Wasn’t it as false then as it is now?) The reality is things won’t be getting better anytime soon, not in the USA, Europe, Middle East or the Caribbean. Jamaica and its people have always had a laissez-faire spirit, but at some point disenchantment with the status quo happens to people everywhere.

While I don’t see it occurring anytime soon, I can also see a scenario where the frustration of the general population to increased taxes, rising costs and substandard service leads to an explosion akin to what has been happening to other parts of the world. It may just take us longer to get there.

No one knows if the unrest in the Middle East will even lead to anything more than it already has. If it does, no one knows what ‘change’ would mean in terms of the many branches of the Arab/Middle Eastern/Muslim dilemma. What we are now seeing is the fruit of the failure by the leadership of these countries to promote meaningful reform in the past, but that doesn’t mean that doing so now would meet the challenge.

If the situation turns sour for the present governments, the ramifications for the rest of the world could be tremendous. A shift to a more fundamental Islamic leadership could be disastrous for the US, solidifying anti-American in the entire region, a hurdle that won’t be easily overcome. A more pro-Western leadership change could also be significant in bringing a shift in the entire region, achieving the results that ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’ hasn’t.

Interesting times indeed.