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Steep Oil Prices, Food Shortages Will Likely Spark Deadly Riots This Year

From now on, rising prices, powerful storms, severe droughts and floods, and other unexpected events are likely to play havoc with the fabric of global society.

He was a poor 26-year-old trying to eke out a living and help pay for his sisters’ schooling.  He met the deep corruption of the Tunisian regime face to face in the most everyday and humiliating way — in the form of bribes he couldn’t afford just to keep his little stand open and the power of a bureaucracy to shut him down on a whim.  In frustration, in protest, he doused himself with paint thinner and burned himself to death (though it took days for that death to come).

His name was Mohammed Bouazizi; he came from the town of Sidi Bouzid, which you’ve never heard of; and his is a terrible story.  Now, he’s known across the Middle East as the man who started the Tunisian revolution and will undoubtedly go down in history — along with Thich Quang Duc, the Buddhist monk who calmly seated himself in a Saigon street in June 1963 and started a political firestorm by immolating himself to protest a repressive American-backed South Vietnamese government; and Jan Palach, the Czech student who did the same in Prague’s Wenceslas Square in January 1969 as a response to the Soviet invasion of his country.  In all three cases, others followed their painful example.  In all three cases, sooner or later it ended badly for the powers-that-be.

Across the Middle East today, immolations are on the rise and nervous American-backed autocrats are listening to the rumbling from below, like the Egyptian demonstrators already reportedly chanting, “We are next, we are next, [Tunisian dictator] Ben Ali, tell [Egyptian autocrat Hosni] Mubarak he is next.”

In his act, however happenstantially, Bouazizi combined two crucial things that ensure the upheavals he began won’t be restricted to Tunisia.  At his little stand, he sold fruit, and to die, he used a petroleum-based product.  Basic foods and fuel are experiencing startling price rises globally.  Behind the Tunisian events, like recent riots in Algeria, Jordan, and elsewhere, lie the rising cost of things that people can’t do without.  In Algeria, young rioters torching buildings were also chanting, “Bring us sugar!”  As Michael Klare, TomDispatch regular and author most recently of Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet, points out, we’ve entered the age of resource revolts and there’s no turning back.

Tom Engelhardt


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