Poverty is the cause for the unrest in the Islamic World, what is next? We at Global Perspectives, have some ideas. http://www.bootheglobalpespectives.com

When Egypt erupted into riots, that caused the government to change, conflicting forces moved to quickly establish power. Moderate Egyptians are competing with religious Islamic radicals, saying “We don’t want to be ruled by religious clerics", while Islamic groups cite "corruption and poor economic conditions". There appears to be a stand off in Egypt, and no one knows whether Egypt will become another “Iran” or another “Turkey”. Reports on the ground suggest that a majority of Egyptians do not want their country to be another Islamic Revolution, they simply want economic opportunity.

Iran's people demonstrate, after Iran leaders praise Egypt's people for demonstrating, only to be beaten back by Iranian police

In Iran, religious and political leaders praised the people of Egypt for demonstrating and working to overthrow their government, and suddenly things changed as tens of thousands of Iranians took this as a message that freedom of speech was OK in Iran, and took to the streets there. Iran responded with repression and oppression through their brutal police forces, with riot gear and batons, beating back Iranians. Iranian lawmakers denounced Monday's protests in Tehran and called for the execution of two opposition leaders for inciting the demonstrations, Iran's state-run Press TV reported Tuesday. So, Iran's PR campaign encouraging "people's rights to demonstrate" backfired on them. Members of the Iranian parliament issued fiery chants against opposition leaders and former presidential candidates Mehdi Karrubi and Mir Hossein Moussavi.

Press TV aired video Tuesday of lawmakers chanting "Moussavi, Karroubi ... execute them."Lawmakers also named former President Mohammad Khatami in some of the death chants.Iranian leaders have praised Egypt's revolution, but

Nations that rule by oppression demonstrate a fundamental weakness

Monday when protesters in Iran took to the streets the government cracked down hard.

The unrest will probably affect other Arab countries like Yemen, Morocco and Algeria, following the fall of the Zein el-Abidine Ben Ali’s regime in Tunisia. Even tiny Bahrain, a home to the U.S. Navy's 5th fleet, is having demonstratons. It is ruled by the Sunni al-Khalifa family, where the majority Shiitessay theyare having job and other economic problems.The Lebanese, who feel close to the Egyptians because of the presence of tens of thousands of Egyptian workers in Lebanon, are following with passion and in real time what is happening in Tahrir Square.Some people are in high spirits. When a dictator is forced to quit after 20 or 20 years in power—Mubarak has led Egypt for 30 years—supporters of democracy are always elated. Uneasiness is also normal because a popular uprising can be crushed in blood or even worse, turn into a new tyranny, as we see in Iran.

WHY? Why all this unrest? Why now? What is fuelling it? For Georges Corm, historian and economist as well as former Lebanese Finance Minister (1998-2000), the spark in Tunisia was lit by a man who was desperate enough to set himself on fire after he was reduced to utter destitution by an unjust economic system buttressed by a police state.

Hmmmmm. Poor economic opportunity and oppressive government.

How many nations fill that definition? If the shoe fits, they must wear it, and they must expect riots, unrest and efforts to change things. It must be recognized that there is a pattern of authoritarian and totalitarian regimes that rule some countries, in which religious leaders, political leaders, multinationals and oligarchies have become rich, often with the complicity of local governments, and local religious leaders as well as politicians who have plundered national resources with no concern for future generations. The dangerous mixture of religion and politics is explosive, when the concentrations of wealth leave the masses of the population struggling for survival.

Without adequate job creation, the economies of these countries cannot meet the demands of a labor market flooded by tens if not hundreds of thousands of young people, many with diplomas, whose prospect more often than not is unemployment, emigration or destitution.

The problem is that the Middle Eastern religious leaders reject the Western economic system and are, as a result, often rejected by it. Therefore, they cannot fully engage in a global economy that creates growth and stability.

The recent world wide recession, rising costs of energy, and food have only increased the anger and unrest. While recession has hurt the middle classes and lower classes of the “West”, they still enjoy a standard of living much better than most people of the Middle East. When economic pressures hit people that are struggling to pay for food, such as millions in the Middle East, then it should not be a surprise that social unrest occurs. The simple matter is that these governments have made a “control pact” with sectors of their society that are poorly equipped to deal with economics.

One example is the continual deterioration of the infrastructure of the once might petroleum industry in Iran. The leadership has allowed this great sector, to decline in production and efficiency, because the “Clerics at the top” have taken cash resources away from the industry to support religious expansionism and other priorities.

In the Arab world, such a model of oppressive control, with religious overtones is all-pervasive according to Corm who said; “certainly, in Tunisia and Egypt, but also in Lebanon, Morocco, Yemen, Jordan, Syria, Algeria and in many Asian nations. A political-military plutocracy is in charge”. It appears that the most stable of them are backed by Western and multinational decision-makers. According to Corm, the responsibility of the current state of affairs falls on the various countries involved as well as the West. As a profound believer in the social doctrine of the Church, he is highly critical of the unfettered capitalism that has swept the planet, the neo-liberalism that rules in some Western industrialized nations. “The neo-liberal wave has led to the creation of plutocracies, and Islamic claims are partially a consequence of these plutocracies,” he said. Some economic students such as Ben B. Boothe, Sr., believe that the solution falls not with pure unfettered capitalism, or with pure authoritarian governments, but somewhere in the moderate middle, with “A capitalism that has proper and well conceived regulatory direction, to control abuses and yet which allows a fair profit motive to drive opportunity and achievement” says Boothe. This is the model that showed the most stable period of growth in the American economy from 1940 to 1978. This type of government and economy will allow stable economic prosperity in the world.

The question is, will giant business interests in the West, and powerful religious interests in the East, allow it to happen in their nations?

Fr Samir Khalil, a Jesuit clergyman and Islam expert, who founded the Center for Arab Christian Documentation and Research at Beirut’s Saint Joseph University. “About 40 per cent of the Egyptian population lives in absolute poverty,” Fr Khalil noted, “with two dollars per person per day, sometimes even less”. Since the start of the year, prices in Egypt have jumped five to thirty-fold. In his opinion, these numbers tell a lot.

For Corm, “democratic freedoms” were not the priority of the crowds in Tahrir Square. They cannot hide a reality of utter poverty and unequal access to national resources. This is why he goes back to what happened in Tunisia. “Who was behind events in Tunisia? Not the middle classes. A poor man set himself on fire. The poor then took to the streets to demand freedom. Yet, let us not forget that poverty is the problem, the determining factor, especially if we wish to isolate the extremist Islamist fringe.”

How much a risk is there that unrest will turn into Islamic revolutions? For some, the danger is real. For instance, Fr Samir Khalil argues that Islamic movements like the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization founded in Egypt in the early part of the 20th century, have understood that social action is the best recruiting poster for Islamism. They are organized and well funded, and may be able to spin the unrest into an Islamic revolution. Islamic movements have never concealed their desire to take power. Iran, in particular, is closely monitoring what is happening in Egypt. Iran has tried to spin the Egyptian situation as an “Islamic revolution” yet, in Iran, the government represses freedoms and those who believe the regime there should be more tolerant”.

Ghassan Hajjar, editor-in-chief of Beirut’s An-Nahar newspaper, cited Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi who said that the success of the revolution in Egypt would lead to an Islamic Middle East. This view reflects a recent statement by Ali Khamenei, who said, “with the will of God a new Middle East is beginning to form and this Middle East is an Islamic Middle East”. For Iran’s supreme leader, the “Egyptian Muslim people have an Islamic past that will lead to great glory on the path of Islamic thought and jihad in the sight of God”.

Likewise, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami said during Friday prayers in Tehran that the revolution of the Tunisian people, “All these protests in Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan and Yemen” are a sign that “an Islamic Middle East is taking shape” and that “this is a new Middle East which is based on Islam” and popular religious demands. These movements, he believes “are inspired by Iran's Islamic revolution and these countries are de facto rocked by the aftershock of the Iranian revolution”. But this may be wishful thinking and spin. If this happens it still does not deal with the basic economic reality, that Islamic governments managed by right wing clerics have done a dismal job of providing economic opportunity for their people.

Is it possible that these revolutions, caused by economic poverty, might lead to a new form of capitalism, and a more tolerant religious atmosphere?

For Georges Corm, there is little danger that some Arab countries will fall to Islam-ism because most people still prefer freedom to a strict religious “control” in society. Still, “it is clear that existing Islamic movements will have to have space in parliamentary politics”. In his view, Islamic movements are “Islamo-Democratic” in orientation, like Europe’s “Christian-Democratic” parties.

Egypt has a range of Islamic movements, the former minister said. Only “the extreme wing of this range is extremist. It is fuelled by Wahhabism”, which comes from circles in Saudi Arabia that not only provide the doctrine but also money. Their influence should not be understated, because Saudi Arabia gives so much money (and power) to these groups. It is ironic that this, a most powerful force, is from a nation that the United States considers a friend.

“Muslims are exasperated,” Corm noted. “The Islamic world has been on a downward spiral of economic deterioration for the past two centuries. They will not conquer the world.” Says Corm.

Islam phobia in Europe and in the USA, may be “a way to divert attention from the real socio-economic problems of the West, and the rivalry for access and use of scarce resources.” And the concept of change should not be forgotten. Christians should not forget that Christ was born in Palestine, not in Rome. They should respect the religious diversity of the East, and accept as Fr Youakim Moubarac put it, that monotheistic truth can be seen in three different ways.

But the essential reality is this. In every nation in the Middle east that is experiencing riots and unrest, there have been increases in the cost of living, increases in energy costs, increases in the costs of food, and few increases in income or livable wages.

What is causing the price of food to rise? 

Some believe the food price increase is caused by speculation of giant firms such as Goldman Sachs. Other researchers have concurred in this explanation of the food crisis. In a July 2010 article called "How Goldman Sachs Gambled on Starving the World's Poor - And Won," journalist Johann Hari observed: 

Beginning in late 2006, world food prices began rising. A year later, wheat price had gone up 80 percent, maize by 90 percent and rice by 320 percent. Food riots broke out in more than 30 countries, and 200 million people faced malnutrition and starvation. Suddenly, in the spring of 2008, food prices fell to previous levels, as if by magic. Jean Ziegler, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, has called this "a silent mass murder," entirely due to "man-made actions."

Some economists said the hikes were caused by increased demand by Chinese and Indian middle-class population booms and the growing use of corn for ethanol. But according to Professor Jayati Ghosh of the Centre for Economic Studies in New Delhi, demand from those countries actuallyfellby 3 percent over the period; and the International Grain Council stated that global production of wheat hadincreasedduring the price spike.

We at Boothe and Associates (http://www.benboothe.com) have concluded that the price of food is directly related to the price of oil. Oil is used to fertilize, farm, transport, market, and water food production. When oil goes up 10% food goes up even more, some believe as much as 30%. This combined with artificial speculation is driving up food prices and destabilizing governments.

Middle eastern leaders would do well to remember the statement written on the blackboard during Bill Clinton’s successful presidential campaign. “It is the economy, stupid!”

WHAT IS NEXT? What we hope is next, is a new age of reason. These massive demonstrations do create the exchange of ideas and control. Perhaps the vast middle, the vast majority of moderate and peace minded people will begin to have more influence in the Middle East. The demonstrations have vividly unmasked the ugly side of these governments, now is a time for an informed thought centered "connected" generation to assert a middle way for the region, and to take the lead in redeveloping a new economic model that provides jobs and opportunity.