The Happy Arab News Service

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Revolution without End

Last updated: February 9, 2011

February 7, 2011

Tunisia's Economic Meltdown

Tunisia's interim PM called for international economic aid as the country is reeling from an economic fallout in the wake of its revolution. Besides massive loses inflicted by extensive looting and arson attacks, labor unrest is causing further damage to the economy through disruptions and escalating labor costs.

Financial Times - Elieen Byrne

. . .

Mr Ghannouchi, 69, who served the dictator as fin­ance minister before becoming prime minister in 1999, said Tunisia faced “a major economic challenge”

“The losses already registered are between $5bn and $8bn, and the needs going forward are even more significant,” he said. “Companies have suffered losses, because factories were set on fire, some employees were laid off, some goods weren’t exported, and tourists didn’t arrive.”

The government estimates that foreign tourism, which accounts for more than 6 per cent of the country’s $100bn economy, plunged by 40 per cent, in terms of both arrivals and revenue.

Public infrastructure suffered significant damage in the unrest, with police stations, national guard posts, tax offices, government employment centres and schools among the buildings burnt down.

In the weeks after Mr Ben Ali’s fall there has been a wave of labour unrest, triggered mostly by wage demands. After police went on strike on Monday and Tuesday, the interior ministry said it had raised the wages of all police, soldiers and customs officials.

. . .

Source: Tunisia appeals for aid to protect democracy

From its very beginning the Tunisian revolution was massively underreported and misreported in the Western media. In fact, at the beginning it has been barely noticed at all. The situation hardly improved since the flight of Ben Ali to Saudi Arabia. The country remains chaotic and deadly clashes persist, but the media attention has already turned to Egypt. However, if Tunisia fails, then there is no reason to believe that other Arab countries can do it better. Tunisia is probably the most Westernized and modern Arab countries. If not Tunisia, hardly anybody else in the Arab World can do it.

Basically and contrary to the often evoked image of the Berlin Wall, the Arab Revolution looks nothing like the anti Communist uprisings in Eastern Europe, with the exception of maybe Romania. Pro democracy movements in Eastern Europe were not used to demonstrations in which people were staging demo executions of their Communist rulers by hanging them in effigies, let alone after having painted them with stars of David. Looting and violence are going on for days and weeks, while the post revolution in Tunisia looks increasingly like a witch hunt against members of the Ben Ali family and just anybody associated with the regime. At one point the authorities closed a TV station run by a member of the Ben Ali family who was known for his opposition to the regime and his support for the protesters.

It's a safe bet that Tunisia's one party system forced many people to seek membership in the ruling party for considerations of promotion and career. The opposition itself was largely unable to field enough qualified people for ministerial posts in the interim government. Yet, the mob's hostility to anybody with ties to Ben Ali family or the ruling party left the process of the formation of new government paralyzed for weeks. The situation seems to have deteriorated even further with the arrival in the capital of protesters from the poor and underdeveloped periphery. The opposition leaders appeared reluctant to confront the crowds and explain the situation, fueling the confusion and paranoia. The quality of leadership provided by the opposition until now has been abysmal, though it's not obvious that the opposition has so much control over the masses anyway.

More importantly, Tunisian economy seems to have fallen victim to the revolution. Besides the GDP being wiped out by 4%-5% during the riots and looting, the food and fuel subsidy cuts were rolled back in order to placate the masses. Tunisian financial situation before the revolution was not a disaster, but neither was it brilliant. Now Tunisia's finances should be coming under real stress. If the opposition leaders don't tackle the problem head-on by calling for patience and restraint, trade unions may unleash a race of wages after prices, finishing off what has survived of the Tunisian economy.

Tunisia's economic meltdown and labor unrest are second in importance only to the beginning of the revolution itself, since they will largely determine whether the newborn democracy can stabilize or it keeps teetering on the brink of sliding into chaos. Yet, just like the beginning of the revolution, this aspect of the revolution receives little to no coverage by the global media, who in the meantime moved to celebrate the next triumph of the Arab democracy in Egypt.

It should be understood that a fiasco of the first Arab revolution in Tunisia will have a cooling effect on the enthusiasm it unleashed across the region. If the Western powers are serious about their desire to see democracy succeeding in the Middle East, they should already start readying a bailout package. Egypt is huge and its social and demographic challenges look unsurmountable, but Tunisia is a small and relatively developed country with an educated and largely secular population and a reasonable demographic profile. Transforming Tunisia into a show case for Arab democracy should not be very difficult nor expensive, while the payoff may reach geopolitical proportions. To put it short, if the West is serious about this democracy business, the time has come for a mini Marshall plan.

Looting a Ferrari of the former President of Tunisia

February 9, 2011

A Revolution without End

A Guardian reporter penned a fine piece from Kasserine, one of the hotbeds of the Tunisian revolution. When a good writer writes a good book, the book transcends the intellectual and circumstantial limitations of its author reaching levels often unaccessible to the person who wrote the book. Journalism is not very different in this respect from writing books. You don't have to rash to take the reporter's conclusions or the local talk at face value, but the article seems to capture the situation and the mood on the streets well.

From the article it appears that police force in Kasserine has largely or entirely disintegrated. This is not exactly surprising given that clashes and attacks on police stations are reported from Tunisia on a daily basis. It seems that not much of the security apparatus has been left intact and the remaining police are heavily demoralized and constantly harassed by the mob.

Kasserine, the rest of the periphery and even some coastal provinces, are evidently consumed by a wave of criminal violence with gangs having taken control of the streets. This is not unlike what was happening in Russia and some other Soviet republics shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union. But in Tunisia the story seems to be taking the shape not of the anti Communist revolutions in Eastern Europe, but rather the Communist ones. Naturally, with the security apparatus in tatters and a massive escape of prison population, the security situation should be expected to deteriorate. In Tunisia, however, it appears that the conspiracy mindset has unleashed a witch hunt reminiscent of the Bolshevik struggle against anti revolutionary elements.

Now, it's perfectly possible that some former members of the security apparatus have by now joined the underworld. This trend was widespread in the post Communist Russia too. It's equally possible that during the first days of the revolution, security forces in many places collapsed and police turned to marauding before fleeing to their home villages or wherever they came from. Yet, it's not entirely obvious that a local governor, even a member of the now officially banned former ruling party, should be interested in hiring criminal gangs to burn schools and rob citizens. However, this is exactly what several ministers of the interim government have been repeatedly suggesting in public recently and this theory seems to be tremendously popular in Kasserine and elsewhere.

As a result, angry crowds ransacked offices of several governors precipitating collapse of the local administration. In a vicious circle the lawlessness blamed on police and local administration triggers new attacks and riots which in their turn render police and local authorities even less capable of maintaining order. In a last ditch attempt to get hold of the situation the government has called in army reserves.

Meanwhile in Kasserine the resolve to keep the revolution going is still strong. For many a revolution is never complete without jobs and expanded opportunities. Absent these, Kasserine's youth promise another uprising. Yet, even the best government in the world would struggle to effect an immediate change for the better in such a chaotic situation.

Historically, revolutions that didn't end on time tended to end in self cannibalism. This revolution increasingly looks as if it's forgetting to end.

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