Pro-democracy in the Middle East: It’s All About the Money
I know there is, deep inside each of us, a small voice that’s willing us to believe that democracy and freedom are inalienable rights on the side of a just cause in front of which no position can last very long, but the truth is somewhat more pedestrian and a lot more pragmatic than that, which is what also makes it more fundamental and hard to resist. And that truth is money.
More precisely, it is the ability to enjoy a decent standard of living. As I am writing this, Tunisia is in the grip of civil unrest that threatens to destabilize the government. Egypt, after the removal of Hosni Mubarak, is far from settled and protesters are asking the military for better pay and conditions, and in Algeria, a massive pro-democracy rally is under way in May Square as the protesters, tired from 18 years of poverty, demand freedom and a better standard of living.
The common thread throughout these countries is what also brought down the Soviet Union and it is the desire, not for freedom, but for an improved standard of living. Money, as anti-idealistic as it may sound, is the catalyst for the pro-democracy movements we see flaring up everywhere, and it is easy to understand why. Freedom, as a concept, is hard to grasp and even harder to quantify. It may revolve around the notion of some guaranteed rights and freedom of speech, but a critical look at the number of CCTV cameras in operation in Britain, Japan and the US would produce a picture that makes the former Soviet Union appear liberal by comparison. Wealth, on the other hand, and the ability to enjoy the level of consumerism that’s been espoused by Western economies and lionized by every Hollywood blockbuster, is something which can lead to direct comparisons, envy and, eventually, anger towards those who appear to stop it from happening.Continued on the next page