Sunday, February 27, 2011

Why the Middle Eastern Revolution matters to the Caribbean!

Everyone in the world has probably been glued to their television sets, watching the revolution in the Middle East. I guess for some it's the late 1970's all over again. For others, memory takes them back even further. For people who review the politics of history- while adding its value to contemporary themes- it is quite breathtaking.

However, what's taking place in the Middle East also gives way to sentiments of angst. Especially when one turns around to look at their own country, in the attempt to make comparisons on the catalysts that took hold and prompted countries like Egypt, Tunisia and now, Libya, to the tipping point of revolution.

The Caribbean is far from being the Middle East. Although we have accepted persons of Middle Eastern heritage, for example the Bahamas with the deposed Shah of Iran and his family after the 1979 Iranian Revolution, and also a notable Lebanese population in Cuba, their style, culture and religious customs, however, have not taken root. While there is a strong representation of Islamic culture in Trinidad and Tobago as well, they are mostly African Muslims that emigrated under different circumstances and times.

Setting that backdrop, one has to ask the question posed earlier; how does the Middle Eastern Revolution relate to the Caribbean? The answer to that may be in the way the question came about in the first place and also in the way the answers relate to the underlying revolutionary catalysts that spurred protesters in the Middle East at its first instance.

The Economist magazine provided us with a lovely interactive chart of the socio-demographics of the leadership styles and profiles of the countries that were undergoing revolution. The results were far from conclusive, but it does give us a chance to ponder on some of the variables.

For example, and quite obviously, all regimes were dictatorships. But, there are also dictatorships in North Korea, Myanmar, Belarus and Cuba. They all were also, quite obviously, Islamic. But, there are Islamic majorities in Pakistan and in Indonesia, as well as a sizable majority in Nigeria.

Another variable was that their leaders were all over the age of 65 and their populations had a median age of 35. Manmohan Singh is closer to 80 than he is 60, and Alpha Conde, the current president of Guinea since December of 2010, is 73. Guinea’s median age is just under 37 and the median age in India is 25.

There were other variables, but these stick out the most. They stick out not because they are all alike, or that there is or isn't the paradoxical comparison of other countries, but because the variables still don't answer a fundamental question.

The fundamental question to be asked is; what, exactly, were people protesting in the Middle East? Numerous reports indicate a sentiment for economic liberation and the acknowledgement that the current guard was not equitable with spreading the wealth through their economic administration.

While the protesters felt that they were left out of the wealth loop, the numbers don't necessarily bear their claims. While Libya has seen a decline in GDP from 2008 and during the height of the crisis, Egypt has not seen the type of drop in GDP during the worst of the economic crisis. In fact, Egypt was set to grow at just over 6 percent of GDP for the year 2011, up from just over 5 percent GDP growth in 2010.

While it can be said that the Egyptian revolution was a little milder than that of Libya, but it also can speak to the leadership style of Libyan leader Muammar Gadafi, which some have likened to that of Saddam Hussein. Also, with Tunisia, they had feared well during the great global economic crisis, with GDP never falling below 2 percent of growth.

We have now two conflicting issues. The first being that the protesters in the Middle East were in arms over economic concerns, while the second issue is that the numbers don't bear the claims of the protesters for that being so.

Obviously one would suggest that; well, all countries weathered the storm and growth was seen, but growth for who, exactly?

This allows me to bring in another variable proposed by the Economist. That being that all of the regimes were in place for lengthy sessions.

Dictatorships, especially lengthy dictatorships, by nature, have strong holds on a country’s resources. While economic growth may be seen during their tenures- due to the fact that their tenures breed temporary, albeit, relatively, stable periods- this does not reflect, at all, the participation in the economic growth of the vast majority of the population. This of course excludes sub-sections of the population, by design, from the process of growth and hence the mis-interpreted and mis-understood depictions of economic vitality.

What does all of this have to do with the Caribbean? It has much to do with the Caribbean, because of the fact that these nuance variables are also at play within our local communities. While there are no dictatorships in the region (minus Cuba); while there are no Islamic majorities in the region; and while there are a few leaders that are over the age of 60, the issue of economic inclusion, no matter what other variable plays a part in either accelerating or retarding revolution, appears to be at play in the Middle East, whether or not the numbers speak directly to that assertion or not- which, in this instance, the numbers may not be telling the whole story.

The Caribbean, also, is at the mercy of global trends shocks. None starker than the price of oil and inflationary pressure. Oil is now comfortably above $100 dollars on the back of the Middle Eastern revolution, which many fear may fuel inflation and jeopardize recovery efforts.

While that economic reality does not speak to the contemporaneous political economy of the situation in the Middle East, its effects are real enough for us to mention as part and manner of the bi-product of what we have been witnessing in the Middle East.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Mubarak is gone... and now Bahrain tries to oust their leaders!

It is a full fledged revolution in place in the Middle East. It is so astounding that some have even given it a moniker- The Jasmine Revolution! I guess it was time to change the old guard for another form of leadership. What will shake out of it is yet to be determined, but we hope it isn't Islamic Fundamentalists.

As you are quite aware, Hoseni Mubarak- after a 30 year rule over Egypt- has left the building. He left the very next day after his televised address to the Egyptian public on how he would not, in fact, leave. The move was one that took everyone by surprise. We thought he would have did what he said: that is, stay on until September and then have a transitional government. Well, the people were not having any of that!

Mubarak had failed to put in place his newly selected Vice President as a way to quell the angst of the Egyptian people. Now, the military has full control of the state. A position that they are not quite accustomed to, after the 30 year rule of Mubarak.

Now, as fate would have it, after the Egyptian and Yemeni Revolution, Bahrain is now having an uprising against the ruling class. Protesters have been met more harshly than what we have seen in Egypt. Sort of like what we saw in Iran last year after their presidential elections.

For the case of Bahrain, a country with a little over 800,000 people, the case may be more manageable than that of Iran. However, the difference between Iran and Bahrain is that Bahrain has a Monarchy, while Iran has a Theocracy. While one would think that a Theocracy would not have dared to squash protesters the way they did in Iran, protesters in Bahrain, are facing the same fate and may even be harsher.

I don't know how the Middle East can stomach turning their military against their people, ala Saddam Hussein. It doesn't look good, to say the very least. But, such is the neighbourhood.

What will happen is Bahrain is yet to be determined. Far from it. But, with only 800,000 people, there can't be much bloodshed for too long. Hopefully it will all end well!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Is the Middle East in the middle of a new Revolution?

Some times, some people, just get fed up with the same ol'e same ol'e. This appears to be the case in Egypt after 30 odd years of Hoseni Mubarak at the helm.

If you have not heard, there are large protests in Egypt with protesters asking for President Mubarak to step down and for a peaceful, democratic, transition. The thing is with leaders like Mubarak- who can almost, if not certainly, be classified as a dictator- is that they do not go down easily. In fact, they try their hardest to secure power for the next generation after they have formally left the seat of authority. Sometimes they even stay around- like Vladimir Putin in Russia (even though he is not classified as a dictator)- to pull strings as if they had never left.

If you have not also heard, is that in Egypt, Mubarak appointed a Vice President in a Mr. Omar Suleiman, who was also the Egyptian head of intelligence. Whether or not he will be a crowd favourite in Egypt in the months to come is the issue. But, he has been used by the United States in the past as the chief head of operations for US military operations in the Middle East. Mr. Suleiman is also the chief architect of the Egyptian/Israeli peace accord-- by extension, holding extremist at bay from bringing holy hell and fire upon Israel.

However, Egypt is not the only case of revolution in the Middle East currently. Yemen has just ousted it's president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and sent him packing to Saudi Arabia. No strong word yet on what would or should happen in Yemen after his departure, but one can imagine that everyone is very concerned about this power vac um.

Yemen is a hot spot for terrorism. In fact, Yemen is on the Al-Queda watch list for America. If you can remember, the Christmas day Nigerian bomber was trained in Yemen as well as a number of other "suspicious" activities surrounding money transfers and "chatter" coming from Yemen to the outside world, has prompted security analysts to look very closely at Yemen. See the Council on Foreign Relations website for more background notes.

The situation on Yemen has calmed down now. However, the power structure is still non-functioning. This can breed more terrorist cells and harbour more persons wishing to indulge in illicit acts- and not just terrorism alone- and remain a festering boil on the backs of the Yemeni people. We need to watch this closely.

Even before Yemen and Egypt, there was Tunisia. A somewhat mild revolution compared to that of Egypt at least, but now as we look back, a bellwether to the most recent demonstrations that we have seen in Egypt. President Ben Ali was ousted, the prime minister shuffled the Cabinet and we are now at a point where the new cabinet must deliver or face the consequences of Ben Ali.

Perhaps we were all fooling ourselves? Perhaps it is a course of nature, considering how the economy was so bad for so long and that people were bound to revolt. Perhaps this was the case? Perhaps what happened in Iran last year was a forewarning to us all. Perhaps all other regime collapses of this year can weather the storm as did the Iranian regime? We will have to wait and see.

We should all be watching. It's not as if the Middle East is like any other region. Terrorism is the main watchword and Al-Queda need only one or two more dysfunctional societies for them to take root and disrupt the rest of the world again. I remarked on my Facebooj page that this looks like the 1970's all over again for the Middle East... it appears to be so!!!