Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Predictably Poor Predictions

Foreign Policy predicted the hot spots but missed out on Tunisia.  Now they have a list of five Arab states* most likely to follow Tunisia's example:  Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Sudan, and Jordan.  The piece focuses on food prices, unemployment, and protests.  These are all good indicators or risk factors, but I would wonder what the coup-proofing strategies of each leader are?  How are the various coercive parts of the government organized?  Recruitment?  Again, the key in these situations, as China so ably demonstrated at Tiananmen Square, is whether the folks with guns will shoot at the protesters.  Collective action is hard enough without real fear that one is going to pay for it and fail. 

Another key factor, shared in common with several of these states, is that semi-reform is pretty dangerous.  Lifting the lid off the pot just a bit but still keeping the heat (repression) on is a recipe for things getting out of control.

I am not a Middle East expert, so I cannot say which countries in the region were snubbed--that should have been on this list and left off. 

Again, I am skeptical about contagion--that an event in one place causes events elsewhere as people learn of the new possibilities.  The question remains--each authoritarian leader develops his (no female dictators in this part of the world, right?) strategies to anticipate efforts to remove him.  Some do it better than others.  Sometimes old strategies lose their effectiveness (see Slobodan Milosevic), sometimes events can serve to mobilize people, but those events are usually domestic ones not something elsewhere.

Still, I must admit that if I was a dictator, I would be a little nervous today.  Of course, enduring dictators are habitually nervous.

*  Another damn slideshow.  Why can't a list of five be on one page?

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