The List

The Next Tunisias

Five Arab states that are ripe for revolution.

ALGERIA

Who's in charge: Abdelaziz Bouteflika has been president of Algeria since 1999. In 2009, he amended the constitution to allow himself to run for a third term and was overwhelmingly reelected in a contest that was boycotted by the opposition. Concerns have recently been raised about the 73-year-old president's health -- the state of which is a carefully guarded state secret -- and there are rumors that his brother is looking to succeed him. Bouteflika oversaw the end of the decade-long Algerian civil war and has worked to improve relations with European and African powers, but he has also been criticized for his failure to contain an Islamist insurgency associated with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the steady erosion of Algeria's democratic institutions under his rule.

Warning signs: As in Tunisia, riots over food prices and widespread unemployment broke out in Algeria in early January. The unrest was sparked when the government announced a price hike on milk, sugar, and flour. Thousands of youths rioted in the capital city of Algiers, throwing rocks at security forces and burning down a police station. Algeria provides 20 percent of Europe's gas needs, and citizens are increasingly frustrated that the revenues are not being divvied up more equitably.  

By late last week, while the situation in Tunisia was coming to a head, Algeria's sizable internal security forces appeared to have the rioting under control. Things have since taken a darker turn, with five Algerian men setting themselves on fire in imitation of Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian university graduate whose suicide set off the protests there in mid-December.

Although Bouteflika's regime is unpopular and increasingly undemocratic, it's not nearly as repressive as was Ben Ali's, which may make it harder for the opposition to build a mass movement for its ouster. Additionally, there are no signs that Algeria's influential trade unions or opposition groups are willing to support the rioters -- who are mostly unemployed youths at this point. Perhaps in an effort to avoid association with Ben Ali, Bouteflika has wished success to Tunisia's new government.

GERARD JULIEN/AFP/Getty Images

EGYPT

Who's in charge:  President Hosni Mubarak has ruled in Cairo for three decades, where an emergency law, which has been in effect for the duration of his tenure, gives him free rein to manipulate the political system. But at 82 years old, it appears pharaoh's power may be slipping. Persistent rumors of Mubarak's ill health have spurred political jockeying -- most notably between his son, Gamal, and the powerful intelligence director Omar Suleiman -- over who will fill his considerable shoes.

Warning signs: Egypt has witnessed a wave of self-immolations in recent days, as outraged citizens attempt to duplicate the popular protests caused by the suicide of Mohamed Bouazizi. The third immolation came when a 25-year-old man set himself on fire on the top floor of his building in Alexandria on Jan. 18. He died from his wounds.

Earlier that same day, a 40-year-old lawyer attempted to immolate himself in Cairo after reportedly chanting slogans about rising food prices in the country. And the day before, a man lit himself on fire outside parliament while protesting against the government. Both are expected to survive. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, however, angrily dismissed suggestions that the Tunisian unrest could spread as "nonsense," complaining that those drawing the comparison were "promoting fantasies and trying to ignite the situation" -- perhaps a poor choice of words.  

Other Egyptian political players sounded a different note. Presidential contender and former International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei said that change in Egypt was "inevitable" following the events in Tunisia.

MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images

LIBYA

Who's in charge: Col. Muammar Qaddafi is the world's longest-serving head of state, having taken power in a military coup in 1969. Libya is consistently ranked as one of the world's worst human rights abusers and least democratic countries. It is a totalitarian state with no freedom of the press and only token opposition parties; Qaddafi's Green Book, which outlines his governing philosophy, is treated as a near-holy text. There have been some signs in recent years that internal dissent has become more tolerated and Libya has become slightly less of a pariah in international affairs since dismantling its nuclear weapons program. These reforms may be driven by Qaddafi's son Saif, whose political views are a fair bit more democratic than his father's and is believed by many observers to be the heir apparent.

Warning signs: It's hard to get reliable information out of Libya, but there have been reports -- as well as some videos posted to YouTube -- of protests in the city of al-Bayda, including chanting crowds and fires in recent days. Street protests used to be a nearly unheard of event in this highly repressive state. Likely in an effort to head off the food-price surges that provoked riots in neighboring Algeria and Tunisia, the Libyan government has slashed duties on imported food.    

On Jan. 15, Qaddafi directly addressed the events in Tunisia in a televised speech, asking why the rioters are "destroying" the "transformation that was achieved in Tunisia." He also blamed "WikiLeaks, which publishes information written by lying ambassadors in order to create chaos." The leaked State Department cables have been pretty rough on the Libyan leader as well, with one of the most famous describing his close relationship with his "voluptuous blonde" Ukrainian nurse. It seems the fall of the government in Tunis was taken quite personally by Qaddafi, who was described as "my dear brother" in one of Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali's last speeches.

In addition to the scenes on the Libyan streets, it's also worth keeping an eye on the turmoil within the Qaddafi family itself. There are indications that regime hard-liners associated with Saif's younger brother Mutassim, who heads one of Libya's powerful security agencies, is pushing back against his older brother's reform agenda. In recent days, Saif has been forced to step down from a human rights charity he led, and journalists working for one of his newspapers have been arrested. Further instability could provide an opportunity for either brother to edge the other out of pole position.

Victor Sokolowicz/Bloomberg via Getty Images

SUDAN

Who's in charge: During his two decades in power, President Omar al-Bashir has become a master of the divide-and-conquer strategy, expertly splitting opponents and fracturing political threats to his regime. A north-south civil war dominated his attention for his first 15 years in office. Then, in the early 2000s, he kept Darfuri rebels at bay by arming janjaweed militias to fight back, according to an International Criminal Court warrant against Bashir for war crimes.

Southern Sudan is currently awaiting the results of a referendum on whether to split from the north. Bashir has promised to respect the results of the vote, though no one quite knows if he'll stick to his word. The one region where Bashir has remained popular is in the north, where the capital Khartoum lies -- though frequent press crackdowns and intimidation of the opposition have certainly boosted the ranks of his self-described supporters. Bashir handily won reelection in last year's presidential ballot -- after many opposition parties withdrew, fearing that it wouldn't be a fair contest.

Warning signs: Even in his traditional stronghold, Bashir may be running out of friends. As protesters in Khartoum took to the streets on Jan. 17, Sudanese opposition leader Hassan al-Turabi had a message for Bashir. "What happened in Tunisia is a reminder," he told AFP. "This is likely to happen in Sudan … If it doesn't, then there will be a lot of bloodshed."

Indeed, despite his characteristic strength, the threats against Bashir are mounting. On Jan. 9, the country's south began voting in a referendum that will likely see their secession from greater Sudan. The stakes are particularly high for Bashir because much of the country's oil wealth lies south of the presumed border (which is yet to be officially demarcated). Even in northern Sudan, discontent is brewing over the economy. Bashir is struggling to control a current account deficit, which his administration has tried to combat by ending certain subsidies on fuel and basic goods. Students flooded the streets to protest the price increases.

Still, there is likely no revolution around the corner for Sudan. Turabi was arrested on Tuesday morning, along with a slew of fellow opposition members, after he publicly praised the Tunisian uprising and called for reform in Sudan -- Bashir's not-so-gentle reminder that, for the moment, he's still the one in power.

ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images



JORDAN

Who's in charge: Jordan's King Abdullah II is a significant U.S. ally and an important interlocutor for Israel on the Mideast peace process. The American-educated and Star Trek-loving Abdullah is the fourth member of the Hashemite dynasty to rule Jordan since World War II. However, an unpredictable new parliament and double-digit unemployment have led some analysts to question his grasp on power.

Warning signs: On Jan. 16, over 3,000 Jordanians gathered outside parliament in the capital city of Amman to protest the regime's economic policies. "Jordan is not only for the rich. Bread is a red line. Beware of our starvation and fury," read one of the protester's signs. Prime Minister Samir Rifai's government, which the protesters were calling on to resign, had already announced a $225 million package of additional subsidies to basic goods, such as sugar and rice. However, protesters have refrained from directly criticizing the monarch, likely due for their fear of a violent reaction from Jordan's security services.

Jordan's Queen Rania also received a hostile response from some online denizens after she tweeted that she was "Closely watching developments in #Tunisia and praying for stability and calm for its people." One Twitter user responded that she should "start palace hunting in Jedda," the city in Saudi Arabia where the deposed Tunisian president is currently hiding out.

KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP/Getty Images

The List

Armed, but Not Necessarily Dangerous

Is a country violent just because it has a lot of guns?

Update: The following look at gun culture around the world was originally written following the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords in January, 2011. But  as U.S. gun culture is once again the subject of national debate following the killing of 26 people at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, it is unfortunately relevant once again.

In the wake of last weekend's shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 19 other people in Tucson, Arizona, lawmakers are once again examining the United States' extremely permissive gun laws. With nearly 90 guns per 100 people according to the 2007 Small Arms Survey, America has by far the most robust gun culture on the planet and one of the world's highest rates of gun crime to go along with it. Looking at the next nine countries on that list, however, reveals a very mixed bag. How is it that the world's most gun-crazy countries include some of the most dangerous and the safest?

YEMEN

Guns per 100 residents: 54.8 (All figures: Small Arms Survey 2007)

The culture: Despite new laws in 2005 and 2007 that required guns to be registered and banned them from being carried openly in public, firearms remain a way of life in Yemen. Even with the law, it's still not unusual for Yemeni men to tote AK-47s, pistols, and hunting rifles around town. Bursts of celebratory gunfire are de rigueur at weddings and social events.

Kalashnikovs can typically be purchased at open-air markets for between $500 and $1,500 depending on quality; harder stuff, such as rocket-propelled grenades, can be obtained easily with the right connections.

An estimated 2,000 Yemenis lose their lives every year in gun-related incidents, a disturbingly high number for a country its size. The engrained gun culture perpetuates tribal violence that has been a major source of the instability that plagues Yemen. The country ranks 15th on Foreign Policy's Failed States Index and is considered a terrorist safe-haven by the United States. Because of the large number of unregistered weapons in Yemen, Small Arms Survey's numbers are probably on the low end. Some estimates put the number of guns in Yemen at around two to three per person. Unfortunately, U.S. military assistance to the country hasn't exactly helped matters.

SWITZERLAND

Guns per 100 residents: 45.7

The culture: Switzerland, which requires many of its citizens to own automatic rifles, but has one of the world's lowest violent crime rates, is a favorite example of U.S. gun-rights advocates. But Switzerland's attitude toward gun ownership is a far cry from that of the United States.

All Swiss men are required to undergo military training, and between the ages of 21 and 32, they are considered to be front-line troops and issued M-57 assault rifles and 24 rounds of ammunition to keep in their home. Once discharged, they are allowed to keep the weapon, or if they prefer, trade it in for a bolt rifle. Women aren't required to own guns, but it's strongly encouraged through government-sponsored training programs.  

In 2001, there were about 600,000 automatic rifles and 500,000 pistols kept in Swiss homes. There are few restrictions on the buying of weapons, and the government even sells off its surplus to citizens when new models are purchased. Many Swiss belong to shooting clubs, and marksmanship competitions are popular activities. A number of cantons have laws against carrying guns without a permit, but it's not unusual to see off-duty reservists toting their assault rifles in public.

The country did a bit of soul-searching in 2001 after a disgruntled Swiss citizen opened fire in a regional parliament building, killing 14 people, but the Swiss don't seem likely to part with their firearms any time soon. In most years, gun crime rates are so low that statistics aren't even kept.

FINLAND

Guns per 100 residents: 45.3

The culture: Finland was an overwhelmingly rural society until recent decades and still maintains something of a frontier attitude toward gun ownership: The legal age for buying a gun in the country is 15. Finland's gun culture is closely tied to hunting -- self-defense is not considered a legally valid reason for gun ownership -- but the use of handguns for target practice is common. Gun clubs are popular venues for bachelor parties and corporate events.

The country's casual attitude toward guns was called into question by two school massacres in 2007 and 2008, which killed a total of 18 people. While the country once had virtually no anti-gun lobby to speak of, public attitudes have begun to shift. Finnish politicians are now debating whether to raise the gun ownership age to 18 and ban semiautomatic weapons. Finland's laws have also put it at odds with the European Parliament, which has voted to set 18 as the minimum age for gun ownership throughout the European Union. But gun advocates in Finland point out that firearms are involved in only 14 percent of the homicides each year there, compared to 67 percent in the United States.

SERBIA

Guns per 100 residents: 37.8

The culture: The high number of unregistered and illegal guns floating around Serbia and the western Balkans is an unfortunate legacy of the conflicts that have racked the region since the early 1990s. During the communist era, Yugoslavia was a major international exporter of cheap infantry weapons.

During the years of fighting, nearly everyone in the conflict area had a weapon in the house. Despite government collection efforts since the war, there are still an estimated 900,000 unregistered weapons in Serbia. The former Yugoslav region's flourishing black market for weapons made it a popular source for organized criminal organizations and militant groups in Western Europe during the 1990s. Experts worry that arms dealers there might now be supplying terrorists.

Serbia today has relatively restrictive gun ownership laws. Citizens are not permitted to own automatic or semiautomatic weapons, and registration -- including background checks and safety training -- is required for all gun owners. Nonetheless, black-market AK-47s are reportedly still fairly easy to come by.

CYPRUS

Guns per 100 residents: 36.4 (Small Arms Survey keeps statistics for the entire island, though the majority are thought to be on the Greek side.)

The culture: Incredibly, with a population of only 870,000, Cyprus was named the world's second-largest importer of small arms after the United States by Small Arms Survey in 2005. The authors write,"This recurrent peculiarity is the consequence of an opaque transit trade."

But the arms trade, for the most part, doesn't factor into civilian ownership. There are only about 104,000 registered guns in Cyprus, nearly all of them hunting rifles. Like the Balkans, Cyprus's long history of internal conflict has left it with large weapons stockpiles in private hands, though many have been destroyed through international efforts. There are some concerns about growing organized crime on the island, but there are still fewer than 10 gun-related homicides per year.

SAUDI ARABIA

Guns per 100 residents: 35

Culture: Saudi Arabia's authoritarian government may frown upon movie theaters and female drivers, but it takes a remarkably laissez-faire attitude toward weapons. The use of firearms for hunting, protection, and public celebrations has a long tradition in Saudi culture, and until recently, regulations were virtually non-existent. In 2007, a new gun law set age limits -- you need to be 21 for a license but can train with adult supervision from the age of 12 -- a licensing system, and strict penalties for smuggling weapons or trading them with the intention of breaching internal security. The carrying of weapons is also banned in mosques, military installations, airports, and a number of other public facilities.

There are few reliable statistics on the number of unregistered weapons in the kingdom, but thousands are seized every year. In 2009, the government responded in a way that would make the National Rifle Association proud -- they made it easier to buy guns. The government for the first time began licensing private dealers (previously only hunting weapons could be purchased in sporting goods stores). Now, anyone with cash and a clean criminal record can now open a gun shop.

IRAQ

Guns per 100 residents: 34.2

The law: Iraq's culture of gun ownership was well-established before the U.S. invasion of 2003. (So much for the argument that a well-armed populace is a defense against tyranny.) These weapons -- combined with those commandeered from the disbanded Iraqi Army -- were to prove far more deadly to U.S. troops in the coming years than the chemical or biological attacks that many feared.

Under laws instituted by the U.S.-backed Iraqi government in 2003, Iraqis were still allowed to keep guns up to 7.62 mm -- the caliber of an AK-47 -- as long as they were registered. A license is required to carry any gun in public. But even these relatively liberal laws have proved difficult to enforce. During an amnesty campaign to encourage Iraqis to turn in their guns at police stations before the new laws went into effect in 2003, not a single weapon was brought in to most locations, according to the BBC.

In fact, the main impact of the U.S. invasion on Iraq's flourishing black-market arms trade has been the creation of sectarian militias that helped drive up prices for firearms.

URUGUAY

Guns per 100 residents: 31.8

Culture: Until 2002, all you needed was a national ID card to purchase a gun in Uruguay, the most firearm-friendly country in Latin America. In the late 1990s, landowners in neighboring Brazil, which has much stricter laws, began amassing personal arsenals to protect themselves from gangs by doing their shopping across the border. In 2002, Uruguay instituted much tougher licensing requirements and began cracking down on illegal firearms.

Nevertheless, Uruguayans remain attached to their arms. According to the Interior Ministry's own statistics, the country has about 600,000 registered gun owners and about an equal number of unregistered weapons. Overall, the country is ranked as one of the most stable in Latin America, but its rate of gun homicide is one of the world's highest, just behind the United States.

For now, Uruguay is the only Latin American country in Small Arms Survey's top 10, but thanks to the flow of weapons to drug cartels from the United States, Mexico may soon be joining it.

SWEDEN

Guns per 100 residents: 31.6

Culture: In U.S. political rhetoric, "Sweden" may be a code word for socialist nanny-statism, but Swedes have their red-state side too. Moosehunting in the country's vast northern regions is an extremely popular sport, and the country has around 300,000 registered hunters. Hunters in Sweden are allowed to own four to six rifles for recreational purposes, but handguns are strictly regulated and usually only allowed for members of gun clubs.

Despite the tough laws, gun crime is on the rise in Sweden, though still insignificant by U.S. standards. In 2005 alone, there were 50 reported shootings in the city of Malmo, mostly within immigrant communities and committed with unregistered weapons. Police and the media have called for tougher penalties for illegal guns.

Norway comes in just behind Sweden on the list. But thanks to fears of gun crime and school shootings plus tough EU regulations, new laws throughout Scandinavia may make Europe's wild north a thing of the past.  

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