There are massive demonstrations against price hikes, unemployment and the high cost of homes in Tunisia and Algeria. Similarly, non-party activists in Jordan are planning protests on Friday for similar reasons. Conditions in Tunisia are the worst and a crisis in Jordan is certainly starting to brew. Meanwhile, Algeria continues to stumble in the middle between the two.
No doubt the wave of price hikes in food and energy the world over has greatly impacted developing societies who have large numbers of poor and marginalised people. The condition of people living under or just above the poverty line is very fragile, and cannot accommodate any price increases in the cost of living. People's patience and tolerance levels have dropped because of partial economic improvement in the region, including the states where these protests are taking place; marginalised citizens are less willing to accept their economic difficulties while their countrymen enjoy a significantly improve standard of living.
The irony here is that states in the region are facing social upheaval at a time when they are actually achieving real economic growth. This is puzzling to policy makers who look only at the numbers and ignore the impact these figures have on the people and how they interpret them. The success of economists can sometimes cause problems for the politicians, especially at the onset of development. This is because the focus is mostly on the growth in revenues among those who are more educated, skilled, connected and innovative, while, at least at first, these profits are not enough to meet everyone’s aspirations.
People in any society are able to tolerate abject poverty and live with it, but their threshold to endure partial poverty is usually much lower. A poor person who buys a television set, satellite dish and a cell phone does not feel a difference in his living standard because the lives of some of his countrymen have improved in leaps and bounds. This type of partial poverty may cause much more trouble than an entire society living in dismal poverty.
The challenge facing societies in the region at this stage is how to continue policies which increase growth while simultaneously expanding the circle of those who benefit from this growth. Failure to do so could result in ruin for development, the economy and entire nations.