While most of the focus has been on demands for political democracy the protests across the Middle East and North Africa have been as much against unemployment, for jobs and for higher pay from the start. For instance in early January the BBC reported ‘The number of people killed in unrest over unemployment in Tunisia over the weekend has risen to 14, officials say…. The protests first broke out in December over a lack of freedom and jobs.’ (1)
The Tunisan man whose suicide by setting himself on fire set off the protests came from a family whose farm land had been taken by a bank after it foreclosed on the families debts. (2)
In Egypt at the end of January they reported ‘At least eight people have been killed and dozens injured since the protests against unemployment, corruption and rising prices began on Tuesday.’ (3)
This is not surprising as political and economic equality go hand in hand – and similarly for political and economic inequality. Having a job does you little good if you are jailed without fair trial, tortured or shot; while having the right to vote is not much good if you’re homeless or struggling to make enough money to be able to afford to eat.
In every case the global recession caused by the financial crisis and corrupt and brutally oppressive undemocratic governments have played a part. In most (e.g Egypt and Tunisia) neo-liberal economic policies promoted by the IMF and ‘developed world’ governments have also played a role. Even while these policies were creating economic growth poverty was increasing and unemployment wasn’t falling. With the recession, both rocketed.
In Egypt Amnesty international reported that as the clean up of Tahrir Square began “In hospitals, banks and insurance companies, employees gathered to demand better pay and working conditions.” Protesters for higher pay include everyone from public sector employees such as ambulance drivers to tourism workers (4) – (5). Mubarak followed neo-liberal economic policies recommended by the IMF. While this resulted in economic growth, the benefits went to a small minority. Mubarak’s family has an estimated fortune of $70 billion, another thousand families who are close to Mubarak benefited greatly and unemployment fell, more than half the population lives on less than £1 a day and there are a million homeless street children in Egyptian cities (6) – (10).
Trade unions have also been important in many cases. In Egypt it was the General Strike called by trade unions that seemed to tip the military into finally forcing Mubarak to resign (11).
(sorry for repeating some of one of my previous posts on Egypt here but i thought it justified a post of it's own on how from the start of the protests in Tunisia on, jobs, pay and unemployment have been core issues)
Last updated 1st March 2010
(1) = BBC 10 Jan 2011 ‘Fourteen killed in Tunisia unemployment protests’,http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-12144906
(2) = Independent 21 Jan 2011 'Tunisia: 'I have lost my son, but I am proud of what he did'', http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/tunisia-i-have-lost-my-son-but-i-am-proud-of-what-he-did-2190331.html
(3) = BBC 28 Jan 2011 ‘Egypt protests escalate in Cairo, Suez and other cities’, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12303564
(4) = Amnesty Livewire 14 Feb 2011 ‘The new face of Egypt’,http://livewire.amnesty.org/2011/02/14/the-new-face-of-egypt/
(5) = BBC News 14 Feb 2011 ‘Egypt crisis: Protests switch to demands on pay’, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12448413
(6) = IMF Survey Magazine 13 Feb 2008 ‘Egypt: Reforms Trigger Economic Gr
(7) = guardian.co.uk 04 Feb 2011 ‘Mubarak family fortune could reach $70bn, say experts’,http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/feb/04/hosni-mubarak-family-fortune
(8) = guardian.co.uk 06 Feb 2011 ‘A private estate called Egypt’, by Professor Salwa Ismail, London School of Economics, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/feb/06/private-estate-egypt-mubarak-cronies
(9) = guardian.co.uk 14 Feb 2011 ‘Egypt's army calls for end to strikes as workers grow in confidence’,http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/feb/14/egypt-army-strikes-workers
(10) = UNICEF ‘A new approach to Egypt’s street children’,http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/egypt_30616.html
(11) = Guardian.co.uk 09 Feb 2011 ‘Egyptian talks near collapse as unions back protests’,http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/feb/09/egypt-protest-talks-union-mubarak