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The Food Crises and Political Instability in North Africa and the Middle East

Publié par Eco-Tunisie sur 29 Octobre 2011, 09:15am

Catégories : #Economie tunisienne

In 2011 protest movements have become pervasive in countries of North Africa and the Middle East. These protests are associated with dictatorial regimes and are often considered to be motivated by the failings of the political systems in the human rights arena [1{4]. Here we show that food prices are the precipitating condition for social unrest [5{12] and identify a specic global food price threshold for unrest. Even without sharp peaks in food prices we project that, within just a few years, the trend of prices will reach the threshold. This points to a danger of spreading global social disruption.

Historically, there are ample examples of \food riots," with consequent challenges to authority and political change, notably in the food riots and social instability across Europe in 1848, which followed widespread droughts [13]. While many other causes of social unrest have been identied, food scarcity or high prices often underlie riots, unrest and revolutions [14{20]. Today, many poor countries rely on the global food supply system and are thus sensitive to global food prices [21]. This condition is quite dierent from the historical prevalence of subsistence farming in undeveloped countries, or even a reliance on local food supplies that could provide a buer against global food supply conditions. It is an example of the increasingly central role that global interdependence is playing in human survival and well-being [22{24]. We can understand the appearance of social unrest in 2011 based upon a hypothesis that widespread unrest does not arise from long-standing political failings of the system, but rather from its sudden perceived failure to provide essential security to the population. In food importing countries with widespread poverty, political organizations may be perceived to have a critical role in food security. Failure to provide security undermines the very reason for existence of the political system. Once this occurs, the resulting protests can reect the wide range of reasons for dissatisfaction, broadening the scope of the protest, and masking the immediate trigger of the unrest.

Human beings depend on political systems for collective decision making and action and their acquiescence to those systems, if not enthusiasm for them, is necessary for the existence of those political systems. The complexity of addressing security in all its components, from protection against external threats to the supply of food and water, is too high for individuals and families to address themselves in modern societies [25]. Thus, individuals depend on a political system for adequate decision making to guarantee expected standards of survival.

This is particularly true for marginal populations, i.e. the poor, whose alternatives are limited and who live near the boundaries of survival even in good times.



The Food Crises and Political Instability

in North Africa and the Middle East

Marco Lagi, Karla Z. Bertrand and Yaneer Bar-Yam

New England Complex Systems Institute

238 Main St., Suite 319, Cambridge, MA 02142, USA

(Dated: September 28, 2011)

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