The North African Crisis
The wave of unrest sweeping Arab North Africa has many causes, but can especially be attributed to the high levels of unemployment, stagnant poverty, and autocratic regimes that have stifled the region for decades.
While Tunisia, the first country in the region to overthrow the ruling regime, did not have a high quantity of people suffering from extreme poverty, there remained a core of marginalized and vulnerable people especially in rural areas. A lack of opportunities for the highly educated has led to high levels of unemployment among the country’s youth. With an unemployment rate of 30% among people under-30, it was truly desperation and a sense of frustration that led to the protests and final revolt against the former Tunisian leader, Ben Ali.
The inability to absorb the waves of young graduates is a problem throughout the North Africa region. It is tied not only to youth frustration, but to inadequate living conditions, hunger and other societal problems. The republic of Egypt, which followed the revolutionary impulse and dethroned Hosni Mubarak after three decades of rule, is a poor country that suffers from food-scarcity. An estimated twenty percent of its population, nearly 14.2 million people, lives below the poverty line, surviving on less than one dollar a day. The poor do not just include unemployed youth but also subsistence farmers, landless laborers and others who also lack access to quality education, water, and sanitation.
Poverty, political corruption, and high unemployment all snowballed in Egypt bringing about the historic mass protests in Tahrir Square and across the country.
Although it is the world’s twelfth largest oil-exporter, an estimated one-third of Libya’s population lives in poverty, their lives untouched by the wealth that benefitted their government and foreign companies. Thirty percent of the population is unemployed, and housing shortages have been a consistent problem in the country. The economic problems caused by neglect and corruption along with a lack of political freedom, ignited widespread dissatisfaction with the country’s leader, and propelled rebels within the country to call for a complete overhaul of the society.
The civilian protests and armed revolts taking place in the North Africa region are a response to a quality of life. The political measures have resulted in a major humanitarian crisis that has spread throughout three countries. The unrest that has swept Tunisia, Egypt, and now Libya requires sober, coordinated action to ease the suffering of those caught in the middle of the conflicts.
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