Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Middle East revolutions

I am planning to work on a general model of revolution(BOOM) with a friend later, and I am trying to get some stylized facts on what happened in the different countries. Of course, it's a mess, and it's quite complicated, but there are several interesting things:

- The economies have often grew along with a rise in inequalities. This created resentment, and as simple as it sounds, it is probably a big deal. Consider today's article in the NYT about the focal point provided by Rami Makhlouf, the owner of Syria's largest mobile phone company:
Egypt had Ahmed Ezz, the steel magnate who favored tight Italian suits (and now faces trial in white prison garb). In Tunisia, it was Leila Traboulsi, the hairdresser who became the president’s wife, then a symbol of the extravagance of the ruling family. Mr. Makhlouf, 41, is Syria’s version, a man at the intersection of family privilege, clan loyalty, growing avarice and, perhaps most dangerously, the yawning disconnect between ruler and ruled that already reshaped authoritarian Syria even before the protests.  
You could add to that the fact that the families of the ruler in Egypt, Syria, and Libya, have been seen as huge beneficiaries of the regime, and often have positions of power(Seif al-Gaddafi is seen as the man in charge in Libya, Gamal Mubarak was likely to succeed his father, the mayor of Dara'a, where the Syrian uprising re-started, is Atef Najib, a relative of Bashar al-Assad, and the list goes on and on).

- There were some relatively trivial sparks at the origin of the protests. In Tunisia, Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire after an altercation with a policewoman. In Syria, some young men writing graffitis in Dera'a seemed to have been the fuel of the revolution. From the NYT:
March 15 was set as the date for the beginning of Syria’s protest movement, but the demonstrations that were held that day were a disappointment.
“They were very small, in the Hamidiya market in Damascus,” Mr. Ziadeh said. Coincidentally, a group of young boys from Dara’a had been arrested for writing antigovernment graffiti on a wall and on March 18, their parents and other relatives marched to the political security building in Dara’a to protest their children’s treatment. The activists suddenly realized that they had been given their Rosa Parks moment, the grievance that they could build a campaign around.
In Egypt, the emotional interview of Wael Gonhim broadcast on February 7th seemed to have revived the protest movement which had been weakened by the propaganda of the Mubarak regime.

- Probably the most striking thing is the back and forth between concessions and crackdowns by the people in charge. Some concessions were always made, but always too late. Consider the night of February 1st when Mubarak announced he would not run for another term, or his nomination of a vice-president early on. Consider the repeal of the emergency law in Syria on April 16th, or the dissolution of governments or firing of unpopular ministers. Consider the deal Ali Abdullah Saleh is agreeing to in Yemen: he said first he was quitting at the end of his term and his son wouldn't replace him, then that he would quit by the end of the year, and now he's supposed to quit in 30 days(though that is not quite sure). All those leaders, while doing those concessions, organized huge crackdowns operations.

There are more(I talked about the interviews given to foreign media as an interesting feature here), but I thought those are the three things I can think of right now.

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