January 14th, 2011
12:05 PM GMT
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Let’s simply say this is not the way in which the leaders of Tunisia and Algeria wanted to start 2011. Both had experienced varying degrees of protests, violence and killings. In Tunisia, it was a lack of opportunity. In Algeria, trouble brewed around not getting access to food at a reasonable price.

It is not a pretty picture, but what is framing the debates in these countries and the need in Tunisia and Algeria for protesters to take to the streets?

The answer, not surprisingly in the Middle East, is both complex and simple at the same time. The countries don’t have a track record of political openness, which at the end of the day eventually comes back to haunt those in power.

“The challenge is, if we don’t have the global governance systems that can come to the party in terms of dealing with that level of interconnectedness, we could see small trigger events of local crises turn into regional or global crises and that is the real fear our report expresses,” says Nick Davis, co-author of the Global Risks 2011 from the World Economic Forum.

Davis is referring to a “retrenchment from globalization” as one of the five risks to watch in the medium term. This past week, it happened in the present. This is not a move away from the WTO, or the IMF, by countries in the region, but something more tangible on the ground – the younger generation has had enough. Access to the internet and information from outside combined with a lack of opportunity inside is a volatile cocktail.

The math is stacked against the Arab youth. On our program, we have talked about the need to create 100 million jobs to just stand still on the unemployment front, since birth rates in the region are at the top of the global league tables.

For example, in Tunisia unemployment is at 14 percent in the general population and nearly double that amongst those below the age of 25. That pressure underscores another risk in the WEF report, demographic challenges.

This tale of unrest and the use of extremely heavy government force to quell protests is even more complex because in Tunisia, President Zein al-Abidine Ben Ali's government has had economic reform on the priority list.

The Mediterranean country of just 10 million people has grown an average of five percent during the past decade. The “Made in Tunisia” label can be found in global retail chains in shopping malls throughout Europe - ditto for the  country's agricultural products. The President has been trying to move his people up the so-called value chain to more high-end industries and has signed trade agreements with the U.S. and European Union going back to the early1990s.

But in reality, according to Middle East veteran Jeremy Greenstock, results have taken too long in a less than open political climate. Greenstock ended his diplomatic career as Britain’s ambassador to the United Nations, but spent years in the region.

Leadership, says the former ambassador “is usually around one personality or one president. Creating a dynasty out of that is more dangerous.” He referenced the 30-year rule of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as a prime example.

Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt fit into what I call the middle-bulge countries of the world in terms of per-capita income. Ranked in the latest IMF survey at at 82, 97, and 103 respectively, they have certainly made sizable gains with, for example, per-capita income in Tunisia at $9,500 per year.

Look further down the list and you will find Yemen, ranking at 135, with a per-capita income of $2,500 per annum and you can see why elements of al Qaeda have moved in. This goes back to the point made by the WEF’s co-author Davis, when he referred to local problems becoming regional or global problems.

And this, says a long-term player in the region, Saeb Eigner of Lonworld, holds back investment. “In North Africa, the issue from a business perspective in order to have a medium-term investment rather than a short-term investment is creating a degree of sustainability and institutional building.”

Sustainability and institutional building both sound a bit too predictable for those seeking high returns for high risks, but after what transpired this week in North Africa being "boring" and more open might just have avoided unrest and violence.

Video: Extended version of this week's MME roundtable discussion

soundoff (21 Responses)
  1. Helpless Tunisian American

    People are dying every minute by police bullets! I am in America; I called my family about 10 min ago to check on them, they are terrorized!!!

    Please spread the word, International media is not giving Tunisia importance in the news, Today is going to be a deadly day and hopefully the end of a dictator that's been ruling for the past 13 years!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


    January 14, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
  2. Roland

    Just one correction for CNN: Tunisia and Algeria are NOT in the Middle-East but in North Africa.
    They are not strictly speaking Arab countries but initialy Berbers. They are muslim but this is about faith.
    So please don't put them in the same box as Egypt and Jordan as this would be too simplistic.
    Be aware that these North African countries are almost part of Europe and the youth surfs the web, reads and watches European papers, TV and movies. Most educated people speak French fluently.
    So this is why the youth wishes democraty and access to a free world. Nothing to do with the classical US vision of Muslim countries and Islam.

    January 14, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
  3. Manuel Vilhena

    The text says that Tunisia has been growing 5% a year in the last decade. That is not bad. Maybe the streets violence makes no sense.

    January 14, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
  4. Samira

    Algeria and especialy Morocco should be next, as the most corrupt King is Mohammed VI of Morocco. All Arab leaders oppress their population and steal from it.

    January 14, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
  5. reality check

    Roland-check yourself. I was just there, in fact when this all started. They speak Arabic, though there is a Berber population and they were there before the Arabs from the Peninsula came, but also Carthage, near the capital today, was established by the Phoenician, who came from modern day Lebanon.

    True they are heavily influenced by Europe and in many ways different than other Arabs. But there is in reality NO difference between the pressures facing north africa, egypt and now jordan. Just in the last few days riots broke out in jordan because of escalating food prices, inflation, unemployment, and lack of prospects for the youth-who make up nearly 50% of EVERY arab state(Tunisia is a member of the Arab League, which was once headquartered there). The Arab countries and others in the middle east-like Iran-have the largest youth bulge and ALL have repressive regimes. The inability of these regimes to provide for their people left the door wide open for an alternative. The west did not back liberal reformers but the islamic radicals found a foothold with the unhappy.

    The FORMER Bin Ali regime (but may continue on if cronies hang on to power) is comparable to China and Iran in terms of internet censure ship. WIth only a population of 10 million, TUnisia has more political prisoners than any other Arab state.

    Manuel read what BBC, Al-Jazeera, DWTV and others have to say. Then you will understand why.

    To all, you should not be asking your own democratic governments why the US and EU states have stood by for decades supporting such autocratic regimes, which have fueled the view that the west is a hypocrite-touting democracy, freedom and development, while consistently backing the regimes that suppress all of these!!! Then look at yourselves and ask, why does this concern me? then say, why would my government give 2 hoots about them Arabs-ohh, yes the modern world runs on fossil fuels. And even if the US is not the largest consumer of middle eastern/north african oil, it's allies are. and if strife causes market jitters and jolts, then the price of oil goes up everywhere. Then drivers in the US will be demonstrating against its own government.

    January 14, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
  6. Moroccan citizen

    Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia are different though part of the same region. Saying Algeria and Morocco does not always make sense. In Tunisia, people have been oppressed for so long and could not criticize the least significant issue and this has led to what we have seen today.
    Algeria has more freedom of speech than Tunisia and Morocco has even more freedom (since 1999). Needless to remind that Morocco (along with Lebanon) offer the highest level of freedom across all arabic countries.
    Finally, most Moroccans would not agree with Samira's point of view with regards to corruption.

    January 14, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
  7. Mohammed

    To Miss Samira,
    Before talking rubbish about King Mohammed VI, just come to Morocco, and watch, see, smell...You will for sure notice the difference between Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and the rest.
    Thanks to Mohammed VI, Morocco has become the most open democracy throughout the world, not one that would allow disgrace of humanity, but one that would preserve the dignity of all Moroccans, be they Muslims or Jews.
    The Tunisian model of oppression has nothing to do with Algeria or Morocco. Each country has its specificity. and I would like you to read about Morocco, by Moroccans and not prostitute pens or voices.

    January 14, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
  8. lady

    " I applaud the courage and dignity of the Tunisian people," Obama said in a statement.
    "The United States stands with the entire international community in bearing witness to this brave and determined struggle for the universal rights that we must all uphold, and we will long remember the images of the Tunisian people seeking to make their voices heard. article...
    we got credits!!!

    January 14, 2011 at 11:18 pm |
  9. Muhammad

    The US government had always supported ben ali's regime and the tunisian dictatorship, i can quote you many many things american leaders had said regarding ben ali, CNN it self doesn't know much about north africa , this article proves it :

    The answer, not surprisingly in the Middle East, is both complex and simple at the same time. The countries don’t have a track record of political openness, which at the end of the day eventually comes back to haunt those in power.



    January 14, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
  10. mysterydoc

    I've been hearing this a lot these days.Some Algerians and Tunisians here seem to insist that they are not ARABS (As if its a DISGRACE) and that they are not part of Middle east (which is correct) but also seems to be saying it just for the people around the world not to look at them as Middle eastern people (as if it is again a disgrace). Some Moron here called Roland says don't put them in the same box as Egypt and Jordan.He's so stupid he doesn't know that neither countries are ARABS.Egyptians are Egyptians and Jordanians are descendants of Canaanites.They (ALL countries including Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco) speak Arabic all due to QURAN.Only Arabs are SA and Gulf region by genetic profiling.Still and after all being said I'm a very very PROUD EGYPTIAN, ARAB,MUSLIM MIDDLE EASTERN and I couldn't care less for and Quoting ROLAND " classical US vision of Muslim countries and Islam." For all the people of Tunisia whether you want to be Arabs or not, I wish you a fast transition with as little blood shed as possible and a much better future.Peace be upon you all in Tunisia.

    January 15, 2011 at 12:55 am |
  11. madani

    ben ali & most of arab leader are making down their people & stole from them 100% and whats we can say more....

    January 15, 2011 at 12:59 am |
  12. Taufik

    You cannot compare Morocco to Tunisia or Algeria. There is a religious freedom and more than 13 political parties who shares the parliament. Please be fair because Morocco is not governed by generals. You should have said Algeria, Libya, and Egypt.

    January 15, 2011 at 2:44 am |
  13. Peter S.

    Hold it. I worked in Tunisia two years. Nice people and beautiful country. Please read what Mrs Clinton said a couple of months ago about Tunisia and its lack of freedom. For that the Tunisian government canceled a lot of programs with the USG. Why we didn't support a liberal democratic opposition? Simple. There wasn't any! Any viable one at least. The same in the rest of North African and most of the middle east.

    January 15, 2011 at 7:36 am |
  14. dotmafia

    not a mention in this article, of course, of the fact that the united states has long supported the tunisian dictatorship.

    January 15, 2011 at 9:18 am |
  15. Tom Koch

    CNN points out an important fact in this article. This fact should not go unnoticed. To quote CNN "birth rates in the region are at the top of the global league tables".
    I believe this is the reason for so much problems in the world. I also believe things will only get worse, unless something is done to stop the exponential growth in world population.
    There are several Major charities giving lots of money for various projects to alleviate suffering in many poor and undeveloped countries. They should consider offering a reward for voluntary sterilization for men and/or women. I believe many destitute persons would participate. This is only logical.

    January 15, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
  16. It's not your war america

    This is a revolutioun, if america tries to interfere it will be invasion, keep away or u will find another Somalia.

    January 15, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
  17. Chopswell

    What's happening there WILL be happening HERE in the U.S. if our government doesn't put some semblance of STABILITY with regards to our economy. LOWER TAXES ON THE MIDDLE CLASS. Put Price restrictions on Gasoline and FOOD. Every time I go to the grocery store, the packages are getting Smaller and SMALLER, yet the price is going HIGHER! I took my receipt with me shopping yesterday, from 3 weeks ago. EVERY SINGLE ITEM WAS HIKED! Not ONE thing was NOT!

    The pressure from the (again–round two) mortgage/foreclosure crisis is about to hit. More and more unemployed....This government needs to get U.S. Corporations BACK ON U.S. SOIL and HIRE AMERICANS! NO MORE NAFTA!!!

    We CAN RELY ON OUR OWN OIL! Get gas back to $1.00 a Gallon! IT CAN BE DONE AND PROFITS STILL BE MADE! Just not the GOUGING profits that are happening these days at these prices!

    If nothing is done–Can we see Obama RUNNING FOR HAWAII???

    Something needs to be done HERE IN THE U.S.!!!!!! NOW!!!

    January 15, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  18. asdf

    %5 growth sounds great unless only %1 of society sees the benefits. Sadly this is the direction the USA is headed.

    January 15, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
  19. Touria

    To Samira,
    Morocco has progressed tremendously since 1999. King Mohammed IV has instituted many democratic reforms. The 2003 family code which improved the status of women in Moroccan society is one. Yes, there is still the problem of youth unemployment, but that is a complicated issue all over the Arab world, and part of the reason is what is called 'the youth bulge' a phenomenon where the majority of the population is under 25 years old. Many developing Arab states with limited resources suffer from the 'the youth buldge.' Educating women about family planning is the solution.

    January 15, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
  20. Ken

    High unemployment and political corruption: sounds like Chicago and Illinois. Should we riot and drive the Democrat Party out of the country?

    January 15, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
  21. levend

    Ken – You can vote for the other guy if don't like what is happening, these people don't get that right. You vote for change, when there is no way to change the pressure builds up and riots are the result. Big difference between Chicago and the these people.

    January 20, 2011 at 5:20 am |

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