Robert Worth of The New York Times reports on the cycle of inflation and protest sweeping across the Middle East:
Even as it enriches Arab rulers, the recent oil-price boom is helping to fuel an extraordinary rise in the cost of food and other basic goods that is squeezing this region’s middle class and setting off strikes, demonstrations and occasional riots from Morocco to the Persian Gulf.
In Jordan, the cost of maintaining fuel subsidies amid the surge in prices forced the government to remove almost all the subsidies this month, sending the price of some fuels up 76 percent overnight. In a devastating domino effect, the cost of basic foods like eggs, potatoes and cucumbers doubled or more.
In Saudi Arabia, where inflation had been virtually zero for a decade, it recently reached an official level of 6.5 percent, though unofficial estimates put it much higher. Public protests and boycotts have followed, and 19 prominent clerics posted an unusual statement on the Internet in December warning of a crisis that would cause “theft, cheating, armed robbery and resentment between rich and poor.”
In a few places the price increases have led to violence. In Yemen, prices for bread and other foods have nearly doubled in the past four months, setting off a string of demonstrations and riots in which at least a dozen people were killed.
In Morocco, 34 people were sentenced to prison on Wednesday for participating in riots over food prices, the Moroccan state news service reported. Even tightly controlled Jordan has had nonviolent demonstrations and strikes.
In Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, inflation is in the double digits, and foreign workers, who constitute a vast majority of the work force, have gone on strike in recent months because of the declining purchasing power of the money they send home.
The workers are paid in currencies that are pegged to the dollar, and the value of their salaries—translated into Indian rupees and other currencies—has dropped significantly.
Picture: Workers in Egypt demand a rise in the minimum wage. Photo by Mohamed Abul Dahab
Monday, 25 February 2008
Posted by Design at 14:51