The Dissent Multipliers


The optimistically named “Arab Spring” whereby a number of the Arab countries are allegedly reclaiming their democratic and religious freedoms, removing corrupt dictatorship and setting up much more equitable distribution of resources and opportunities and shrugging off foreign domination may have some tenuous connection with reality, but still does not explain what triggered the dissent or more worryingly why the dissent continues to simmer.

The Anglican commentator Charles Reed suggests one of the major dissent multipliers for the Arab Spring was the stress which had been building with the shortage of basic commodities – and in particular food. For example Egypt is largely dependent on food from elsewhere and the average for Egyptians is to spend 40% of the family income on food. The rapidly rising food prices which translates in Egypt to 20% food inflation has brought the Egyptian population to a point where 40 million of the 83 million population are dependent on food rations.

The food price increase has several root causes. Forest fires and drought in Russia, winter kill of some food commodities in the US, and floods in Australia have all hit the food production areas whereas the increasing pressure on oil has resulted in some areas of food production being diverted into growing for synthetic fuel production. Then of course there is the rapidly increasing World population with China, Brazil and India in particular lifting their standard of living and competing for food which previously was the preserve of the richer nations. The reason why food then becomes a potential dissent multiplier is when it hits areas where there is uneven distribution of wealth, the disadvantaged are under increasing pressure to seize what they believe are their rights to survival. It goes without saying that areas outside this Middle East region suffer this same condition and therefore should be waqtched carefully for signs of breakdown in order.

A second dissent multiplier is the concentration of power with an elite who differ from many in the population for ethnic, cultural or religious reasons. Many in wealthy backwaters in the West perceive the religious extremism as the fault of the particular religions of those involved, whereas the main contributing factor may well be that those in power differentially favour those who share tribal, and cultural backgrounds as well as religious affiliations. For example it is very clear in Libya that Gadhafi’s fellow tribesmen are loyal supporters of their patron while the rebels bent on his overthrow come from areas where power has been typically denied.

A third dissent multiplier is the memory of past injustices. When whole areas are subjugated so that resources in their area can be brought under the control of a distant controlling power eg Saddam Hussein conducting atrocities against the Kurds to suppress rebellion and remove the possibility that they might otherwise take control of oil in their home territory. When those doing the subjugation have clear support from one of the Super powers, whether it be US, Britain, France ,China, India etc who may well be financing dictatorship in return for access to valuable commodities – resentment against controlling governments is associated with resentment against their sponsors.

I would be interested to learn from others who may know of other current significant dissent multipliers.

This entry was posted in Egypt consequences, In the news, Libya, Moral Issues, Society and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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