Saturday, 5 February 2011

The Tipping Point in the Middle East: The Global Origins of Revolutionary Dissent

In a recessionary world, mass protests have spread like wildfire across Europe, but you would be mistaken for thinking that this is where the impacts end. Rolling mass action has taken the middle east by storm, and this will contribute in great measure to the reshuffling of the global political chessboard.  But where did it all start? In my view, there are critical, multiple factors that are contributing to the emergence of a tipping point in the middle east.

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the collapse of global markets in 2008 has plunged a billion people under the poverty line.  But food and oil prices starting rising well before the economic collapse of 2008, and is not solely the consequence of this collapse.  It is symptomatic of changes in the world that have been unfolding for the past two decades. The end of the cold war and the decline of the Soviet Union saw the leading global economies undertake to facilitate the expansion and growth of neoliberal market policies. Privatisation and deregulation became the mantra's of aspiring and new members of the global economic order, but they did not march off into the sunset and live happily ever after.  New members have become increasingly vulnerable to global changes that lie outside of their control, and the post-cold war economy has not been kind to the citizens living within old cold war states, who have experienced increasing levels of poverty, lack of opportunity and disenfranchisement, while becoming more connected to social networks that span the globe and more aware of the vast chasms of difference between the lives they lead in these restrictive cold war states, and elsewhere in the world.

While faith in the abilities of markets to self-regulate has been decidedly shaken, this era of global expansion also saw the rapid spread of internet enabled capabilities and cellular communications systems which have brought about unpredicted and unprecedented changes in regions of the world where states were able to control the access of citizens to information and global social networks.  Because competitiveness in both global and local markets depended on having and using these technologies, they were taken up rapidly, even though existing cold war states made efforts to restrict access over the internet in particular. China, in particular, is notorious for it's control over the internet and the Chinese government employs in excess of 300 000 'spies' to monitor email and internet traffic in China. If an employee sends out a controversial email to a friend in Australia the Chinese government switches off the email service of the entire company for which the employee works. This level of control over information is only matched by other cold-war states, even though some may argue that the US's efforts to shut down Wikileaks reveals their reluctance to discard their aspirations to global imperialism.

The new neo-liberal era saw cold war states try to control markets less and their citizens more, especially where the access to and freedom of information is concerned. In a strong sense, these states have been working against themselves, simultaneously increasing the vulnerability of their citizens to global changes and their exposure to new ICT technologies, yet trying to prevent their access to global information and communication systems at the same time.  However, they have been increasingly unable to 'have their cake and eat it', as technology has run ahead of an out-of-touch leadership generation, who have little understanding of what a critical role it plays in the evolution of new social norms, values, beliefs and behaviours. Moreover, these states are also increasingly unable to cope with externalities emerging from changes occurring at global scales.  Global changes in economy and climate are wreaking havoc with traditional production systems, leading to unpredictable effects resulting from the inter-connectedness of economies.  Old cold war states are geared towards maintaining 'security' and the 'status quo', and as such are scarcely capable of adapting to changes and innovating new responses. 

Their responses are usually 'more of the same', and the conditions have been reached, in many parts of the middle east in particular, where 'more of the same' is no longer meeting the needs of the broader majority of people, but especially the youth.  The youth bulge in Africa (at between approximately 60 - 80%) and the Middle East (Egypt: approximately 30% under 35), is a strong indication of the generational split that is emerging between leaderships.  The new Egyptian prime minister stated that the government would appeal to the parents of protesters to get them to return to their homes ... this only emphasizes the point I am making here; that an older generation who are no longer capable of leading the majority of their citizens, and who have incurred a heavy debt upon the youth through the creation of poverty ridden states where the majority wealth is held in the corrupt hands of a select few, are finally getting 'pushed' out of power, and rightly so, as they will not be around to clean up the mess they have made and a new generation of leaders are needed right now to make the critical decisions that will re-orientate the last of the cold war states.   


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