February 01, 2011

Status of Jordan, Yemen and other countries facing public demonstrations

NY Times reports that the King of Jordan has dismissed his cabinet

Changing cabinets is not new for King Abdullah. In his 12 years on the throne, he has done so eight times. But this was the first time that he had done so in reaction to public pressure, seeking to undermine a growing protest movement across a broad spectrum of society and to pre-empt further unrest. It came after four weeks of unusual public demonstrations.

In Yemen, the government, fearing new protests, offered concessions to the opposition, which promised to call a demonstration every Thursday until March, when it will evaluate whether its demands have been met. In Syria, calls for a “day of rage” this weekend against the government of President Bashar al-Assad were spreading on Facebook, which is banned in the country, and on Twitter.

And in Tunisia, the country that set off the regional unrest after protests toppled the government, the army was called in to calm fears of chaos.

The emir of Qatar, scheduled to visit South America later this month, postponed his trip because of regional tensions.

In the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority announced it would hold local elections, postponed last year, “as soon as possible.” The Palestinian cabinet, led by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, said in a statement that elections would take place simultaneously in the West Bank and in Gaza, and that the government would set a date at its meeting next week. It was not clear whether the government’s rival Hamas, the Islamist group that runs Gaza, would cooperate.

Here is a cheat sheet to 11 countries that could see their current regimes topple.

1. Morocco: Reforms already lined up.

Morocco’s government has already undergone democratic reforms, so any political pressure would likely be responded to in a similar manner, with more reforms. Those very reforms have been suggested by a government commission, so Morocco seems pretty safe at the moment, prepared to adjust if things get out of hand.

2. Jordan: King Abdullah tries to get ahead of the crisis
3. Syria: President pushing for reform already
4. Saudi Arabia: Massive military strength may be enough to quell social dissent

Saudi Arabia has seen some small protests, but over the government response to flooding, not rising costs and unemployment. There are concerns on the streets that the country doesn’t have proper infrastructure and is recklessly spending its oil riches. The repressive regime is unlikely to fall under these smaller concerns, but its youth unemployment problem (42%) and religious minority (Shia) could eventually exert real pressure.

5. Iran: Could things kick off again in Tehran?

Inflation: Inflation at 13.5% in early 2010, may be more than double that level

Unemployment: 14.6% as of August

6. Libya: Time may be runnning out for Gaddafi

Libya would seem a good bet. It’s stuck between revolutionary Tunisia and Egypt. Its leader is regarded as an international eccentric. He wants his son to take over, and the public’s not pleased. Financial squalor is probably worse than estimated. Whether or not social media could assist is unknown, but Libya is a likely future front in the spillover.

Aljazeera reports [link is to a page that is not translated] cities across eastern Libya went into a state of emergency, dispensing police to all government buildings and setting up militarized checkpoints in key areas.

7. Yemen: Serious unemployment problem and an Al Qaeda threat

Yemen has the deepest unemployment problem in the region, and likely a serious inflation problem too. There’s a large terrorist group in the country, as it is a headquarters for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Protests are already significant. There is a sincere liklihood of change here, or, and this might be worse, further radicalisation of the population. (40% unemployment)

8. Pakistan: Democracy under threat as state remains unstable

Pakistan has a serious economic crisis, a weakness of state shown in recent flooding, confused positions over the U.S. and Taliban, as well as large anti-government, pro-Muslim fundamentalist forces.

The potential for change is there. The biggest power source remains the military, however, and another coup, similar to the one that brought Musharaf to power, could occur.

Inflation: Over 15%

Unemployment: 14% in 2010

9. Vietnam: A sharp recession could lead to opposition against Communist rule

10. Venezuela: Has Hugo Chavez outstayed his welcome?

11. China: Could a severe economic downturn derail the Chinese regime?

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