Is Tunisia the first domino to fall?
The events that triggered the overthrow of President Ben Ali are unique, but there are good reasons for alarm among rulers across the Arab world
By Claire Spencer
16 Jan 2011
If it were only Tunisia, the outside world might be excused for being slow to wake up to the potential consequences of the protests that led to last Friday’s sudden ousting of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali from the presidency. The convulsion is now being described in terms of a “scenario” to be avoided elsewhere in the Arab world, with commentators looking around the region, notably to Tunisia’s neighbour Algeria, where riots over food prices have only just subsided, and towards Egypt, where recent attacks on the Christian Copts raised the spectre of deepening sectarian violence.
What is afoot in North Africa, and will it really infect the internal dynamics of other Arab states? On the face of it, the main spark for the Tunisian unrest was high unemployment, particularly among graduates, whereas in Algeria, it was the spike in the prices of cooking oil and sugar. Having reduced the taxes on both, the Algerian government has defused the tension for now, without addressing the underlying pressures of youth unemployment, underinvestment in poorer regions, and its own unaccountability to its citizens.
All these issues have their parallels in Tunisia, along with strains on living standards affecting the whole region. In 2008, a sudden, 30 per cent rise in the price of imported wheat provoked widespread bread riots in Egypt, and Jordan has recently seen protests over living costs too.