Tunis yesterday, Cairo today, London tomorrow?
Neil Clark: These revolts aren’t peculiar to Muslims – they’re about young people having no hope
Tens of thousands of people, fed up with economic hardship, unemployment, and the corruption of their country's ruling elite, gather in their capital city's main square and call for the resignation of their pro-western government and for new elections to be held.
No, I'm not referring to events this week in Cairo, but Belgrade.
While Egypt's disturbances have made front page news the world over, Serbia's huge anti-government protests have gained far less media attention. And the Serbs aren't the only Europeans who are taking to the streets to express their disapproval of their leaders.
In neighbouring Albania, 20,000 demonstrators took part in anti-government protests in Tirana last month (above), during which four civilians were shot dead, and 17 policemen injured. Large anti-government demonstrations were again held in Tirana and other Albanian cities on Friday.
On January 28, in the Turkish-half of Nicosia in northern Cyprus, around 40,000 people gathered to protest against their government: a general strike was also held.
Many commentators have portrayed the revolts against the ruling regimes in Tunisia and Egypt as something peculiar to the Arab world. It's all to do with Islamists trying to take control, or about the ‘Arab world's 1989', we're told.
In fact, they're part of a global phenomenon. What is fuelling the anti-government protests in the Middle East, in Serbia, Albania and Turkish Cyprus are economic factors. People are taking to the streets, not because they are Islamists, far-leftists, or far-rightists, but principally because they want a life. They want jobs and a decent standard of living.
It is little surprise that Wael Ghonim, the young Google executive who started the Facebook campaign that did so much to inspire the protesters in Cairo, should have said in his TV interview yesterday: "This revolution belonged to the youth of the internet, then it belonged to all young Egyptians, then it belonged to all of Egypt."
It's revealing to look at the unemployment figures - and in particular the youth unemployment figures - in the countries where the disturbances are occurring.
• Youth unemployment in Tunisia doubled in the period 1996/7 to 2006/7 and is estimated to be around 30 per cent, with the country's official overall rate of unemployment is 14 per cent.
• In Egypt, people under 30 make up for 90 per cent of the 9.4 per cent officially unemployed - though most analysts believe the real rate to be much higher.
• In Serbia, overall unemployment is almost 20 per cent, with youth unemployment a staggering 50 per cent.
• In Albania, unemployment is around 14 per cent, with around 50 per cent of young people unemployed.
• In Turkish Cyprus, 12 per cent are unemployed with 31.4 per cent of young people without a job.
The street protests in these countries illustrate a growing discontent, particularly among the young, with the neo-liberal model of globalisation and rising anger against corrupt and out-of-touch political elites who seem not to care about their predicament.
And the bad news for those elites is that the discontent is only going to spread.
Last August, the International Labour Organisation revealed that 81 million young people worldwide were without jobs at the end of 2009 - the highest level of youth unemployment ever. The ILO expects the increase to have continued throughout 2010, and with governments across Europe committed to deficit-slashing austerity programmes, unemployment is only going to get worse in 2011.
It's not just about people not having jobs. It's also to do with rocketing prices of basic commodities. World food prices rose to a record high in January, up 3.7 per cent from December, with the World Bank President Robert Zoellick warning: "We are going to be facing a broader trend of increasing commodity prices, including food commodity prices."
As the economic pressure on ordinary people intensifies, could what happened in Tunisia - the overthrowing of an unpopular government by angry citizens who have simply had enough - happen in Europe?
It's not just the governments in Belgrade and Tirana who ought to be concerned. In Greece, with more IMF/EU induced austerity on the way, the situation could flare up again at any time. Romania is another country to keep your eyes on: last year the country saw its largest anti-government demonstrations since the fall of Ceausescu in 1989, with 50,000 taking to the streets in opposition to the government's austerity measures.
And there's nothing to say that large-scale anti-government protests won't spread to Britain, too, with economists warning of a double-dip recession and youth unemployment reaching a record high in January.
It seems that across Europe ruling elites have a choice: either change their economic policies and put full employment back on the agenda, or face an increasingly angry populace.
Up to now, the years 1848 and 1917 are the ones most associated with revolution. Judging by the way it's going so far, 2011 could end up surpassing them all. ·
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