January 16th, 2011
04:24 PM GMT
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(CNN) - World attention has focused on Tunisia this weekend as protests forced incumbent President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali to flee from office. Many demonstrators voiced their anger over issues including unemployment, living conditions and economic hardship among others.

But Tunisia is not the only North African nation to have faced upheaval in recent weeks, with violence reported in Algeria over rising food prices and a housing crisis.

CNN Arabic has spoken to regional experts and opinion formers over the past few weeks for their comments on just what’s driving the unrest – and how much of it is linked to economic issues. What follows are some of their thoughts. 

If Europe hurts, North Africa hurts

Khalid Abu-Ismail, policy adviser for fighting poverty with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) said that the fallout from worldwide financial crises had had limited direct impact on some Arab countries. The region is not as well-integrated with the international markets as other parts of the world, he explained.

Instead Abu-Ismail believed that the “worst negative effects were caused by the food price crises, especially as most Arab countries were hit at a time when they were trying to drive through painful reforms, such as ending subsidization programs for food and energy.

“Tunisia for example, and north Africa as a whole, is highly linked to the eurozone markets in Europe. They depend on the European market to export goods and energy and services.

“The problems in the eurozone have decreased the amount of exports from Tunisia,” continued Abu-Ismail, “and the effect on the Tunisian industrial sector is huge. " He added that Europe, which has its own economic issues, could no longer continue its role as a major destination for the unemployed of North Africa.

“The poor Arab counties needs to finance a recovery plan to retrigger growth rates. Algeria can do that, depending on its wealth and natural resources, but other countries in the region can’t.”

Reforms only benefit a few

Kamal Hamdan, Head of Economic Division at the Consultation & Research Institute, specializes in labor markets. He said that new liberal economic policies introduced in the likes of Tunisia had not seen the “fruits of growth” divided equally.

“Only a small minority of people who were close to the regimes managed to benefit from the new economy, while the majority found themselves facing additional suffering after losing their social safety net.”

Economies are too dependent on energy exports

Financial expert Farid Bin yehya said that “the clashes in Algeria are linked to what is happening in Tunisia. No one can argue that we are facing huge problems. In Algeria, in the last weeks, food prices sky rocketed. Ordinary people felt the heat because this will affect their daily life. The poor do not have the chance to live even a semi–decent life.”

He added that the “way the government tried to solve the problem [by delaying the new taxes on food and gas] will only delay the explosion, it will not defuse it.

“The [Algerian] government lacks any reasonable strategic plans to lead us out of this situation, with local economy that depends entirely on exporting oil and gas.”

Political oppression…

Meanwhile Mustafa Bu shashi, the head of the National League for Human Rights in Algeria believes that “the political oppression is the real reason for the riots. We have asked every one to pay attention to this.”

...and no means of expression

Finally Karim Tabo, a spokesperson for the Front of Socialist Movement in Algeria believes that the “the streets were the only place for young men to express themselves. This is the natural response when political institutions are paralyzed and unable to transfer the voice of the people.”

What do you think is causing the unrest in North Africa? Is it just down to economic issues - or wider areas of contention within society? Post your comments below.

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soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Emanuele

    The outbreak of violence is strictly linked to the unemployment there, which is a consequence of the high unemployement in Europe. As soon as European companies will slash jobs in Europe to transfer them to India and China, these issues will just become worse. What are European government waiting for? Do they want a civil war in Northern Africa and in several poorer European countries before acting?

    January 16, 2011 at 8:26 pm |
  2. koa

    Since their independance, the population of Tunisia has trebled.
    Yet this is a small country, with limited natural resources or industrial output. Of course corruption etc. are major issues but looking at the fundamentals how can a small, desertic country can sustain a population of 10 millions ?
    It worked as long as they could export their unemployment but now this is over with the old Europe declining.

    January 16, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
  3. gfjhiyuoop

    2012 is soooo comin quick

    January 17, 2011 at 1:52 am |
  4. Hassan El-Saghir

    Most if not all Arab countries have concentrated their efforts since 25 years on building the infrastructures of their countries because of some mislead thoughts among them:
    1-This is encouraging both to their countries in creating jobs and bringing a good image of leadership to outside nations as well as their local inhabitants. Through this, they created also jobs to Europeans and helped increase their importations towards Arab countries and hence, most of the Arab countries were quoted well by the west and hence most of the time has had the yes head nods of the west.
    2-The Arab regimes thought that by bringing to the average Arab citizen only an acceptable appearance image of his infrastructures, then this Arab will feel proud of his country and government leaders. They forgot that this citizen has eyes to see and a brain to compare between his miserable situation and that of the wealthy others in limousines, restaurants, on beaches and hotels....
    3-The Arab countries of north Africa and especially those that don't have direct frontiers with Israel and hence are far from the Israeli Arab conflict, thought that their petroleum wealthy situation and their efforts to develop the infrastructures will keep them away from troubles and wars and now the situation in Tunisia proved the opposite.

    January 17, 2011 at 3:12 am |
  5. Robert Berding

    Hassan you are 100% right. Many North Africans will flee to Europe where there are hardly any jobs. Hugh problem for Europe. Civil unrest will start in many countries of the EU within 2 years.

    January 17, 2011 at 8:24 am |
  6. joseph cuthill-coutts

    Africa as a whole is facing a very unsettled future.. Tribal affairs and Ëlders" rights to seniority still continue. Corruption is rife... education is not of a high standard.. Only Australia imports their doctors... Most other countries decliine.. Until they can turn sand and rock into a salable item there will be poverty..

    January 17, 2011 at 9:01 am |
  7. mohamed ali

    its time for the revolotion in the arabe world watch out

    January 17, 2011 at 10:42 am |
  8. Manuel Vilhena

    Tunisia in Portugal has a reputation of a peacefully Arab country whereas Algeria doesn't. The issue in my opinion remains in a lack of opportunities for young people to develop their potential in their own countries.

    January 17, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
  9. Nick Walker

    One of the main drivers is the demographics resulting from their high fertility rates. In these countries there are around twice as many young men (15 to 30) than older men (40 to 55) and if the economy isn't growing or political opportunity for participation is too low then that's a lot of angry young men who know they have no chance of being even slightly rich or powerful. That's a recipe for disaster.

    January 31, 2011 at 1:21 pm |

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