Arab Spring


Visualizing health in the Arab world | 

Guest post by Katie Leach-Kemon, a policy translation specialist from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

Mohamed Bouazizi
Mohamed Bouazizi

In Tunisia in December 2010, a poor, unemployed college graduate named Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself aflame after the contents of his fruit stand were confiscated by police because he was operating without a license. Bouazizi’s frustration about his inability to earn a living struck a chord with many other young people in the country, prompting mass protests against a government many viewed as guilty of keeping people in poverty.

Thus began the so-called Arab Spring, a revolutionary wave of anti-government protests that spread from Tunisia to neighboring countries such as Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Yemen. Most of the protesters were similarly motivated by frustration with oppressive governments perceived as indifferent to the suffering and inequity experienced by most citizens.

The protests continue, having in many cases exploded into deadly clashes and outright civil war. Many of those in the conflict are unemployed young people like Bouazizi who have taken to the streets – or even taken up arms – to demand a better life. It’s worth noting that 77% of the Arab world is under age 40.

What did the health landscape look like in these countries leading up to the uprisings? To answer this question, we’ll use data from the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010 and a recently-published study on health in the Arab world. Continue reading

What’s next for the Egyptian revolution? | 

Families protesting near Tahrir Square by Flickr user Zeinab Mohamed

This has been a tumultuous week in Egypt. Huge protests on against the elected president Muhuammed Morsi were followed by what many are calling a military coup d’etat. Now, two and a half years after the fall of dictator Hosni Mubarak, some are saying the Egyptian revolution is “back to square one.”

But Morsi had a 78% approval rating when he took office only a year ago, according to polling data. What accounts for the drastic decline in his popularity? Was it really a coup? Who makes up the country’s military and what are their interests? Why are people still protesting in the streets?

Is there still promise and hope for Egypt’s revolution?

Who better to answer these questions than Tarek Dawoud, a community activist in Seattle’s Egyptian-American community and a keen observer of Egyptian politics, and Hatim Aiad, who lives in Washington but is currently in Cairo where the protests are ongoing.

They don’t agree on everything – one is more pro-Morsi than the other – but they both are confident that Egypt’s younger generations will keep fighting for democracy. Aiad says the youth are “global, not local” in their political outlook. And Dawoud says they’re increasingly well-organized, even learning how to deal with opportunist politicians. “I think you’re going to see great things from Egypt,” he says.

But first, Tom Paulson and I discuss this week’s headlines, among them: Failed children’s water pumps (Playpumps!), the fickle nature of private investment as a driver of growth in the Global South, and “the rise of Middle Class militants” in Egypt and elsewhere.

Listen below. And if you’re interested in development and global health, you owe it yourself to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.

Message from Egypt: Neither Morsi or the protesters represent most Egyptians | 

Egypt Protests 2012
Flickr, El Mosquito Queretaro

My good friend and Cairo-based journalist Nadia El-Awady is a lovely person, very gentle in manner and soft-spoken. But she is also an incredibly forceful and insightful thinker who never minces words, or suffers fools. Here is a blog post from Nadia about the current, disturbing, state of affairs in Egypt.

Nadia El-Awady
Nadia El-Awady

Nadia supported the original revolution, Egypt’s Arab Spring, that deposed the dictator Hosni Mubarak. She has not been happy with President Mohamed Morsi or the Muslim Brotherhood. Yet she is not supportive of the current protest movement aimed at forcing Morsi from office. Nadia sees chaos ahead if that happens:

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets yesterday. It was quite impressive. But what of the tens of millions of Egyptians who did not? The only way to know what Egyptians really want is to go back to the ballot boxes and ask them. It is those ballot boxes that I fought so hard for during the January 25 Revolution. Do NOT take them away from me.

What most Egyptians want is rule of law and a functioning democracy. The revolution, she argues, was to establish democratic rule – not perpetual mob rule, or military rule. Read her post today in full here….

Economist: Why food is so expensive for poor people | 

The Economist, though starting off with a misleading reference to the horse meat flap in Europe, does a nice job here in its Daily Chart of illustrating why food is so costly to the poor. Were you confused by the stories that explained, way back when, that the riots and political unrest which exploded into what we then called the Arab Spring (now perhaps better dubbed the Arab Turmoil or Festering Wounds) were sparked by food price increases? This may help clear things up.

We all know that food is essential. What we often don’t know is how big a chunk it takes out of a poor person’s daily income.


A related article on why Food Riots Likely to Become the New Normal

One view on the Arab Spring: From Syrian jail cell to Muslim feminists | 

I’ve known journalist D Parvaz for a decade and may never quite see the world the way she does.

But it’s worth trying.

Parvaz is a reporter for Al Jazeera and was formerly a colleague of mine for many years at the (dearly departed print version) Seattle Post Intelligencer newspaper — now

She returned to Seattle this week to moderate a talk at Seattle Town Hall by Wael Ghonim, the Google executive who used Facebook to help spark the Egyptian revolution.

Tom Paulson

D Parvaz and Wael Ghonim at Seattle Town Hall

It was a great talk and Ghonim’s story is fairly well-known, as described here on NPR, in part to publicize his new book Revolution 2.0.

But a lot of the folks in the packed room would have liked to hear from D (technically, it’s ‘Dorothy’ but she prefers D). Ghonim tried to get Parvaz to talk about that moment last year when she was world famous – jailed by Syrian officials for attempting to report on protests there.

Held for nearly three weeks, first in Syria and then later in Iran after being secretly deported there for more interrogations, many think she’s lucky to be alive.

D refused to talk last night about her own experiences and perspectives, so I will. Continue reading

At Seattle Town Hall, the Google executive who sparked the Egyptian revolution | 

In 2010, Egyptian Google executive Wael Ghonim used Facebook to coordinate a protest of the torture and killing of a man by dictatorial President Hosni Mubarak’s security police.

It was the beginning of a revolution, the explosion of the Arab Spring movement in Egypt — a popular revolt which forced Mubarak out of office but continues its struggle today under a military regime increasingly at odds with its own people and one of its biggest supporters, the U.S.

Tonight, at Seattle Town Hall, Ghonim will speak on being Inside a Revolution. Moderating the panel will be D Parvaz, a reporter for Al Jazeera based out of Qatar and, before that, a colleague of mine at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Parvaz received international attention last spring when she was arrested and held for weeks in Syria after entering the country to attempt to report on the protests there.

Here’s a recent video interview of Ghonim by the Economist:

Egypt remains in turmoil but Ghonim says he is hopeful:

“I’m very optimistic … We are basically recovering from 60 years of military rule, 30 years of dictatorship and 10 years of a very bad economic situation for most Egyptians.”

Ghonim can be expected to speak tonight in Seattle about his experience, the power and the limits of social media in popular protests and about what he believes has already been an amazing amount of positive change in Egypt. “What’s needed,” he tells the Economist, “is patience, passion and optimism.”

Does Davos matter? In a good way, I mean. | 

World Economic Forum

News analysis

The World Economic Forum opened today in Davos, Switzerland.

I wasn’t invited. Neither were you, in all likelihood. Bill Gates always is and will make his standard pitch for assisting the world’s poorest.

For decades, the global political and business elite have gathered at the WEF meeting to discuss, deliberate and declaim on all manner of issues.

Economics can pretty much incorporate any issue it wants, given either the scope of this ‘dismal science‘ or perhaps its increasingly unwieldy definition as to what it is economists actually do. So people here talk about almost anything.

Unless they don’t want to.

Last year, I noted that a significant number of participants and pundits asked if Davos was even relevant anymore.

Al Jazeera

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the spread of the Arab Spring from Tunisia to Egypt. Yet at last year’s hobnob gathering of the upper one percentile, nary a peep was heard about this world-changing popular revolution. Even weirder, WEF was celebrating Muammar Gaddafi’s son Saif as one of the world’s top model young leaders.

Some said then that WEF at Davos had become worse than irrelevant given that many of these who come here to talk about finding economic solutions to the global meltdown actually built the fire — and are those who continue to profit from the global inequity they say they want to fix.

One of the most newsworthy (and kind of funny) moments last year was when mega-banker CEO Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase complained about people picking on bankers. The reaction Dimon provoked only provided more evidence, many said, of how clueless are the elite at this meeting.

Since then, the Occupy Movement has emerged like an angry swamp blob, with about as much clarity of purpose say its critics.

But Occupy is now in Davos to greet the elite, a sign of the times. Meanwhile, Desmond Tutu is there also, trying to get people to stop pointing fingers and instead work together to actually solve problems. Continue reading

Remembering the fruit vendor who sparked a global revolution, the Arab Spring | 


Tunisian stamp honoring Mohamed Bouazizi

A year ago Saturday, a poor Tunisian fruit vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi killed himself.

This sparked public protest in his village, which then spread to all of Tunisia and became a successful call for the country’s corrupt President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali to step down. Tunisia’s success inspired similar protests in neighboring countries.

Thus was launched the Arab Spring, which continues today with clashes and deaths of protesters in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere.

Bouazizi didn’t intend to make a political statement. He wasn’t known to be political at all. Bouazizi reportedly set himself on fire in an act of desperation, some might say emotional instability, due to a life of constant harassment and humiliation by officials. Whether he intended it or not, his death sparked a global revolution. Continue reading