The Arab world is facing a period of multi-country turmoil that has few precedents in recent history. It is unique because while regional events like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the invasion of Iraq may have inspired discontent across the Middle East, this turmoil is focussed squarely on the fundamental problems facing individual societies.
In less than two weeks of 2011, there has been widespread riots against unemployment and inflation in Tunisia and Algeria, a political crisis in Lebanon, the first stage of a potentially bloody division of Sudan, sectarian violence in Egypt and tribal, anti-government riots in Jordan.
While Sudan has long been troubled (and often considered peripheral to the Arab world), and Lebanese politics is essentially a dance from crisis to crisis, troubles in Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan show that even nations known and praised for their stability are struggling to contain their seething populations, who are overwhelmingly young, unemployed and have never known life under anyone but their current leader.
As the FT's Roula Khalaf concluded in an excellent piece earlier this week:
Grievances over rising prices of basic commodities, shortages of housing and the lack of jobs need not threaten the survival of a regime. But they do represent a critical signal that the regime’s ability to persuade people to remain quiescent has disappeared.
That is truly significant for the region, and yes, for foreign investors and for markets. You'll see more on this on FT Tilt soon. But for now, some recommended reads:
On America in Lebanon - Abu Muqawama
The Arab World Demographic Dilemma: Young, Unemployed, and Searching for a Voice - Saudi Jeans
On Violence In Jordan Lately - The Black Iris
Thee Decades of a Joke That Just Won't Die - Foreign Policy
Tunisia and Algeria unite as 'one force' - The National
The Sick Man of the Middle East: Is Tunisia's strongman president about to fall? - Foreign Policy