The beginning of New Year saw the people of Tunisia came out in large numbers and showcased a sense of unison in fighting the odds that they wished to conquer over. Such was the magnitude of the month long protest that it led to its president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, to flee from his own land and seek refuge in another country. The events though began with the local youths committing suicides amidst increasing unemployment, rising prices of food and petroleum products. The response of the police was brutal, which led to killing of scores of people in firing. Though the mass rallies had begun as a protest to the rising economic issues; the focus took a different turn to the dictatorship, regime corruption and suppression of human rights in the later stages.
The West had been supportive of Ben Ali’s government; it was shocking to see that the United States did not utter a word of condemnation against the police force that brutally fired at the demonstrators. It reacted only after they realized that Ben Ali’s days at the helm of affairs were numbered. The Ben Ali government or rather Ben Ali had been a favorite of the U.S. because of several factors with one of the factors being acceptation of the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) and World Bank’s policies unquestioningly. Consequently, the people in his own country were impoverished and capitalism was encouraged. Tunisia was the strongest ally of the U.S. in their “war on terror.” It was also the headquarters of U.S. administration’s Middle East Partnership Initiative meant to spread democracy in the region. The Ben Ali Government had been supportive of the U.S.’s “extraordinary rendition program” where in terror suspects from other countries were handed over to Tunisian security forces to extract information through torture. The Tunisian government was supportive of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) that aims to set up military bases in the African continent.
The above mentioned factors clearly indicate that the U.S. had its own vested interests in not responding to the Tunisian uprising at the earliest. However, come to think of it, in the end, the U.S. was left with no choice but to respond. Though, the clear picture of the response shall be seen only after there is a settlement in the country and the new government comes to function. Whether the new government would be like an old wine in new bottle or completely turned into a new leaf, shall be seen only once it starts functioning effectively. Till then, the people of Tunisia can only hope for the best and expect a “reform” in their world of affairs.
The “Jasmine revolution” of Tunisia inspired the people of Egypt to come out in large numbers and protest the ouster of their president, Hosni Mubarak. The mass uprising that was led peacefully to a certain extent by the people did lead to the Mubarak government being crumbled.
The turmoil in Egypt is a clear indication that the material conditions have played a significant role in generating the widespread rage and resentment. These regimes have been increasingly neoliberal in their economic orientation. Be it Tunisia or Egypt, in trying to protect the economic interests of elite, they were willing to let their citizens be dwarfed by global and local vicissitudes.
A look back in the history reflects that President Mubarak inherited an economy that was largely state-led because of the legacy of Gamal Abdel Nasser. The early 1990s marked the growing political influence of Gamal Mubarak and ascendency of the IMF in economic policymaking. Signing of agreements with the IMF led to a shift towards privatizing state assets, deregulating markets and going in for market-oriented reforms that reduced explicit government control. External trade was liberalized, exchange controls were mostly lifted, large range of public ownership assets were privatized, private and foreign players were allowed into insurance markets and other financial markets were deregulated. These changes were accompanied by: the monetary policy that targeted a core rate of inflation and did not bother to consider its effect on economic stability and employment or deal with price inflation in specific necessities.
While the World Bank’s 2007 Doing Business Report named Egypt the “top reformer” of all developing and transition countries, unemployment raged on with as high as 50% among the youth and poverty increased to one-fifth of the total population. With the rise in prices of basic necessities there was a fall in material standards of the population, the wages stagnated and there was no gainful unemployment; all these factors attributed to further rising economic inequality.
It is a clear indication that the economic factors that had been implemented keeping in mind the “welfare” of the people have not really stood up to their mark. Therefore, leading to a high level of frustration and anger among the people against the government. Though Mubarak took long time before stepping down from his thrown, the moment is joyous for the scores of people who had been protesting against his regime. A new wave of fresh air has finally entered the land of Egypt and the people of Egypt would be hoping that this fresh air lasts long and is not polluted by the corruption and suppression of the previous regimes.
The reason behind the protests in Tunisia, Egypt and other Arab countries throw a light on the fact that a country like India is going through a similar situation in terms of economic conditions. Rising food prices, inflation, to add to it the increasing unfolding of corruptions and scams from every sector throws our country in a bad light. So, why have not the people of India reacted in the same way as the Tunisians and Egytians? Come to think of it, ours is already a democratic country that guarantees the citizens certain fundamental rights. If we want we can express our dissatisfaction in a similar way by organizing rallies and mass protests.
In order to make sure that such rallies do not begin in our country in the way they have begun in Tunisia and Egypt, our ruling party needs to act. The ruling government has responded to the felt needs and demands but corruption has been clouding all those responses. A general perception is that much more can be done by the ruling party than what has been done till present.
For a country like India, to come out of the strangles of the rising food prices and getting our economy to a stable position, the need of the hour is that not only the ruling government but also the opposition parties have to come out in full support. For once, the opposition parties need to shed their "opposing" nature and chart out initiatives and reforms with the ruling government that would be beneficial for not only the elite but also the "aam aadmi" who have invested their trust and faith in them.