The Middle East is only now beginning to feel the full impact of the financial crisis as investments from the United States and Europe dry up in the region.
Governments in the Middle East responded to the decline in foreign investments and aid from Western governments, already challenged with stressed budgets, by applying austere measures in the form of devaluations and the removal of subsidies from essentials such as gasoline and food.
The impact of those measures was detrimental particularly on the most vulnerable members of society, many of whom live on less than a dollar a day.
Some demonstrations were expected, and indeed initially the demonstrations in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and Yemen all called for economic reforms and an end to corruption.
However, those peaceful demonstrations were met with violence and repression as if free speech and expression were a crime. In Tunisia and Egypt the violence was especially brutal, leading to the death of some and the injury of hundreds, not to mention those who vanished from official arrest sheets.
What was unexpected was the intensity of the demonstrations and how they evolved into a grass-roots revolution the winds of which are currently sweeping across the entire region. Also unexpected was the role the Internet and young people – 20- to 30-year-olds – would play as the catalyst for the movement.
In both Tunisia and Egypt, the brutality unleashed by the government on demonstrators angered people from all walks of life. Millions representing every segment of society called for regime change, democracy and economic reform. President Mubarak finally resigned on Friday.
Regimes that lack credibility in the region such as Libya, Jordan and Yemen have already begun a superficial implementation of political and economic reforms to avoid the Tunisian and Egyptian scenario.
In Tunisia, the president finally fled the country. The country is currently in transition toward a more democratic system of governance.
Egypt’s future remains in limbo and sadly so is our foreign policy, considering the conflicting statements by President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Obama’s special envoy to Egypt, Frank Wisner.
If the majority is successful, Egypt will continue to face significant economic hurdles such as population explosion, poverty and an unemployment rate as high as 25 percent among 20- to 30-year olds.
Regime change in Egypt and the rest of the Middle East will be painful in the short run for the U.S. economy, especially if the flow of oil is disturbed. But the long-run gains are huge.
In the long run, regime change in Egypt and the Middle East provides an invaluable end-game to the war on terror.
The millions of demonstrators demand basic human rights, liberty and democracy. Supporting such a popular movement ensures the integration of the Middle East into a global economic system and prevents the radicalization of a population who has clearly rejected violence and its oligarchs.
Khalid Abdalla is an economist who teaches at South Puget Sound Community College. Abdalla, a former member of The Olympian’s Board of Contributors, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.