Rock the Casbah

“Now over at the temple, Oh! They really pack ’em in
The in crowd say it’s cool,To dig this chanting thing
But as the wind changed direction, The temple band took five
The crowd caught a wiff, Of that crazy Casbah jive” – The Clash, Rock the Casbah

Things are coming unhinged over in the Middle East. First Tunisia, now Egypt; Jordan and Yemen are starting to feel some heat as well.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock (globaleconomicanalysis.blogspot.com) has pointed out on any number of occasions that “the watched pot never boils.” He usually speaks in terms of economic issues and impending financial crises around the world. (For instance, he notes that everybody over here thinks that the US economy is in serious trouble because of unsound fiscal policy by Washington. They’re right of course, but we probably won’t fall apart first – Europe and Japan are further down the road to destruction.)

Of all the potential hot spots for social unrest … Tunisia? The whole mess apparently started when a food vendor (college graduate, unable to find work because of crushingly high unemployment) was mistreated by police (story here). Exasperated, he eventually set himself on fire in front of a government building. He has since gone on to eternity, but his actions proved a powerful catalyst for the throngs of unemployed youth; and the Tunisian government was toppled. (Not before the president pilfered a ton and a half of gold bars though.)

Seems the Egyptians took note. “Hmmm, high unemployment; brutal, nepotistic government; riots in the street and the government falls … hey, I’ve got an idea.” Then, it was on. Hosni Mubarak, you’re on the hot seat. The world is watching as riots in Egypt have erupted. The government has responded by shutting down the internet and imposing curfews. (Don’t shake you’re head just yet, my American friends. The Senate introduced legislation last year to give the executive branch an “internet kill switch” in case of a national emergency … like say if thousands of unemployed youths are rioting in protest of unfair government policies????)

If Mubarak doesn’t hold on to power, the contagion will likely spread to other Middle East countries. Yemen and Jordan are the ones you hear about, but I suspect unrest could pop up other places as well.

The system that these dictators have built is fundamentally brittle. When people lose enough of their freedom and livelihoods, they will respond in force. The culprit this time appears to be unemployment (caused by global financial crises), coupled with skyrocketing food costs. A number of other nations have taken drastic measures to stem inflation – understanding that it will destroy the common man’s ability to buy food for himself and his family – leaving him little reason not to riot.

What happens next is anybody’s guess. This could be an eruption of freedom, or religious fascism, or perhaps just another false start. One thing is sure though, if you are a head of state who has governed without the consent of the people, you have to be a little nervous right now. If you never won an election, you have to be wondering just how stable your hold on power is. Things can change awfully fast out there.

So we will be watching this weekend, to see what unfolds. Say a prayer for the downtrodden and oppressed. Somewhere there are children scrounging for food in the aftermath of governmental collapse and riots. Somewhere there are elderly trying to get to a hospital that may or may not be open anymore due to riots and unrest. Somewhere there are people not at all different from me and you that are hoping tomorrow will bring freedom and peace – and perhaps a job and a good meal.

 

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