Given the high degree of euphoria and romanticism in the coverage by both Western and Arab media of recent popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, it would be useful for everyone to take a few deep breaths and remind ourselves that revolutions often look very attractive in the beginning. Then they usually go through some really bad periods; the French reign of terror and the decade of political turmoil that followed, the crushing oppression of Soviet communism in Russia, and the unfinished misery of Iranians.
I would like to be optimistic, and there are some positive signs in Tunisia and Egypt. Both countries have strong traditions of national pride, histories of constitutionalism, cultural riches, and a middle class of educated men and women. So far, the armed forces in both countries have shown a degree of professionalism and discipline that have earned the respect of both popular forces and key civilian government institutions. Both have had respectable economic growth rates at a time of global economic distress. Regrettably, however, there are also major factors working against a happy outcome in the next several years.
an unpopular dictator, however entrenched, is far easier than putting a stable
political structure in place afterward. The success of this second step stands
between passionate embrace of popular overthrow of an authoritarian ruler and
prolonged chaos followed by embrace of a new tyranny or anarchy.
Imagine the following, very plausible scenario for what Egypt and Tunisia will look like three months from now:
Instead of the high food prices that spurred the initial protests in both countries, there are serious food shortages. By some accounts, this is already beginning. Bear in mind that there are real prospects of global food shortages this year and next.
Tourists are not even thinking about coming back. The tourism establishments in both countries carry out mass layoffs in this labor-intensive industry. The masses of unemployed join the demonstrators already in the street and gradually the fervor for freedom of assembly and free media is surpassed by more urgent demands for basic necessities.
The private sector stops making investments in Tunisia and Egypt. This is already happening. Look at the investor newsletters in the United States and Europe. Look at the bond downgrades by Moody's, Fitch, and S&P. Egyptian and Tunisian capital flee their countries for safer environments, even at far lower profit margins. There is an Arab proverb which says, "Capital is a coward. It flees to security."
The European Union, despite being Tunisia's major market for exports (80 percent), tourists, and surplus labor, does not rise to the challenge. Remember that Europe is going through its own recession and a series of financial crises. Given how long it took Europe to come to the aid of Greece, Tunisians shouldn't hold their breath.