Turmoil continues to rock the Middle East

By Annie Iodice
March 9, 2011

Scenes of protests, resistance and finally jubilation were shown three months ago in Tunisia with a revolution that ousted President Ben Ali after 23 years in power.

Shortly after, Egyptians began a successful revolt against their ruler of over 30 years, Hosni Mubarak, and now it appears that Libya’s strongman, Muammar Qaddafi, is only days away from exile.

The success of Tunisia and Egypt has now sparked and fanned the flames of protest in Algeria, Bahrain, Jordan and Yemen, among others, and incited milder protests in a number of other North African and Middle Eastern states.


The list of countries facing protests continues to grow weekly with countries that share similar profiles of leadership – long-serving dictators with regimes practicing varying degrees of brutality. However, if these leaders have been in power for so long, why are we seeing so many of them suddenly falling like dominos, losing control one after another in just a few months?

The simple answer lies in the current food crisis hitting the Middle East, with food prices hitting an all-time high in February, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. A year of unfavorable growing conditions in several regions around the globe has resulted in a significant shortage of grain crops.

This short supply is also being stretched thin by the increasing demand for food in populous nations with growing GDPs, like India and China.

On top of that, the United States is further increasing demand by continuing to turn a greater percentage of its corn crop into biofuels each year, an estimated 31 percent in 2010 according to World Bank President Bob Zoellick.

This food shortage is starting revolutions in countries that have been suffering for decades but still surviving. Even amid fierce oppression at the hands of dictators, large populations can be controlled if they do not feel immediately threatened.

“Having your basic needs met stymies political action,” Dr. Darryl Mace, history professor, said.

Now that food is short, this most basic need is ignored in countries that already have a “perfect storm” of conditions, as Mace put it, for starting protests and revolutions.

“In [Cairo] Egypt, you see a large population living in a small city, with few opportunities, even for college grads,” Mace said.

Add to this the fact that young people are more connected than ever before through cell phones and social media and suddenly the recent revolts appear inevitable. These countries were operating unsustainable systems that created a generation of young, organized people with no opportunities, leaving them with time on their hands to create civil unrest. The food shortage happened to be the catalyst for that unrest.

Amid the celebrations in Benghazi and elsewhere, uncertainty looms. The young generation has never known life without their respective dictators.  So what happens next?

“The most immediate issues for forming new governments in these countries are establishing the governments themselves and maintaining the peace while also protecting the people from outside or fringe elements involved with terrorism,” Dr. Shelby Hockenberry, political science professor, said.

As each country faces this challenge, the rest of the world will be paying close attention. Western leaders are hoping that terrorism fails to make progress with the young, emboldened populations; youths in other oppressed countries are taking inspiration from the success of their neighboring counterparts and the remaining dictators in the region are scrambling to stifle protests in any way they can – perhaps only delaying the inevitable.


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Annie Iodice

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