A number of "MENA" states face the prospect of further upheaval as economic conditions worsenby Claire Spencer / January 24, 2018 / Leave a comment
Civic protests look set to become the theme of this year in a number of Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) states.
The year began with the Iranian protests in full swing. Then, for the first two weeks of January, thousands of people took part in sporadic protests across a number of Tunisian towns and cities against the apparent indifference of the government towards the impact of austerity. Its citizens have borne the brunt of IMF-backed economic reforms as the country struggles to regain economic balance seven years after the Arab Spring.
The protests continue this week in the southern Tunisian town of Metlaoui over jobs—or rather the lack of them—in the region’s phosphate mines, a main source of work and income. However, Tunisia is not alone in facing the challenges of poverty and chronic under- and unemployment, particularly amongst young people. Across North Africa, people can no longer afford the basics of life. Their governments grapple with rising public account deficits and debt, but offer little to mitigate the inflationary pressures on foodstuffs and basic services that new taxation and cutbacks inflict disproportionately on the poor.
More contained protests have been simmering in the northern Rif region of Morocco since late 2016, after the death of an illegal fishmonger triggered a wider set of demands for local investment and jobs long promised, but still not delivered. Earlier this month, the Moroccan dirham was partially floated for the first time, with fears of devaluation presaging hikes in import prices. Algeria has just imposed restrictions on the import of over 850 products, the prices of which have risen sharply; local substitutes are scarce and thus equally susceptible to sharp price hikes on the black market.
In Egypt, the promising economic growth projections just released by the government—of up to 5.5 per cent by 2019-20—could provoke a backlash on the basis of public expectations: inflation has been brought down to 21 per cent from a 33 per cent high last summer, but needs to reach single digit figures for escalating food prices to be curtailed. Higher growth also means higher expectations for jobs, which the Egyptian economy is still a long way from providing.
North Africa has a history of “bread riots” dating back to the 1970s. A shortage of cigarettes and…