The Happy Arab News Service

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Burn yourself down and be happy

Last updated: February 3, 2011

January 17, 2011

The mess in Tunisia is already producing spillover effects around the Middle East with the opposition in Jordan demanding from the government to resign over fuel and food price hikes. The misfortune of the "burn yourself down and be happy" revolution that befell the Arab World in Tunisia is that it's likely to enshrine the culture of rioting and delegitimize the economic reform desperately needed to deepen in many countries. I was arguing in the past that the political and economic reforms in the Arab world cannot proceed at the same time. Basically the economic reform should come and accomplish its objective first.

Tunisia may still get away with this revolution as the country is on the verge of exiting its unemployment crisis due to purely demographic factors. However, it's already obvious that the next government will find it virtually impossible to cut fuel and food subsidies, an act now permanently associated in the Middle East with the excesses of authoritarian rule. Jordan, however, may have no other option as it faces greater economic difficulties than Tunisia (of course it depends on how much of the Tunisian economy will survive looting and fires). Basically, Jordan is caught between letting the economy go down the drain and facing its own self immolation revolution.

The situation right now is such that those Arab countries who have already done away with the bulk of fuel and food subsidies and trimmed state sector payrolls should consider themselves lucky. Those on the way out of the demographic onslaught like Tunisia should simply go and borrow for infrastructure projects and spend their way through the next few years until they reach the light already visible in the end of the tunnel. But Jordan and others may find themselves in a deepening trap in which opposition is laying ambush to the economic reforms which are now in danger of becoming the symbol of despotism in the Middle East.

February 3, 2011

The Khat Revolution

Why Yemen Won’t Fall - an oped in the New York Times. The answer: Yemen won't fall because Saleh's dancing on the heads of snakes will either end in a massive crash or a massive Saudi bailout.

Published: February 4, 2011

. . .

Mr. Saleh continues to excel at the business of ruling Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, a task which he has often unflatteringly likened to “dancing on the heads of snakes.” Yet, since Tunisians sent their longtime president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, packing, Mr. Saleh has been obliged to change his dance steps and quicken his pace; he has dropped income taxes, given out food subsidies and promised to raise the salaries of soldiers and civil servants and to provide jobs to college graduates.

. . .

Abdul Ghani al-Iryani, a prominent political commentator in Sana, told me that he believes Mr. Saleh will have to keep his promises this time: “The rules of the game have changed — he cannot not honor his word this time. Tunisia and Egypt have raised the bar.” He thinks Mr. Saleh has six months to prove himself trustworthy. At the end of that time, revenues from his two main sources — Saudi aid and minor oil exports — will not be enough to foot the civil service wage bill, or the diesel and food subsidies.

Then he will not be worrying about polite opposition politicians but more likely about bread-rioters, hungry and unmanageable, exploding into violence.

Source: Why Yemen Won’t Fall

The self immolation revolution will probably have two stages. The first stage is happening right now. The second stage will unfold when those who survived the first stage and new governments, that took place of the old regimes, run out of money to maintain wage increases and food/fuel subsidies. This is of course highly conditioned on what's going to happen with food and fuel prices globally. But as China, India and other developing nations keep surging economically, the long term trend is clear.

Yemen's social crisis, exacerbated by staggering demographic and environmental challenges, merits this country the top place in the region's watchlist. And if anybody by any chance thinks that the infamous plant makes dancing on the heads of Saleh's drug addicted snakes an easy task, then he should think again. Khat can be chewed everywhere.

By Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, February 5, 2011; 12:37 AM

. . .

Back at the university, the protesters sat on the sidewalk, clutching Yemeni flags. Sharabi vowed that if Saleh didn't step down, they would protest all day, until midnight.

"We will bring our khat here and make a revolution," he said, as another protester walked toward the khat stores.

Source: Washington Post

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