Tunisian Tea Party
Posted on January 27, 2011Revolution swept Europe in 1848.
Stoked by nationalism and poverty, France, Italy, Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Ireland and the vast reaches of the Habsburg Empire all convulsed in tumult.
The bourgeoisie and peasant classes, angered by the ruling classes that seemed to care more for their own personal well being than the well-being of their peoples, rose up and said enough is enough.
Most of the revolutions didn’t succeed. The Irish rebels were crushed. The Parisian rebels were stopped. The Italians and the Germans idealists were thwarted (many of them ended up fleeing to America).
Europe in the mid-nineteenth century was going through a great transition. The monarchies that had long ruled had lost touch with the people. Intermarriage had made many of the Kings and Queens loony and weak. The Industrial Revolution had presented its own challenges, as many of the peasant class migrated to the cities to find better pay and work. The new industrialists and financiers had more wealth than the landowners, and they demanded more power. New technologies made communications and travel easier and faster everywhere but in Russia, which significantly didn’t face a revolution in 1848.
And though the revolutions didn’t succeed, they did send a wake-up call to the Monarchists that change was inevitable. Many adapted and changed their ways, and eventually, control shifted to democracies.
Revolution, like the flu, can be contagious.
In 1968, the American civil rights movement inspired similar movements in Ireland, in Paris and across the globe.
We are seeing such a movement in the Middle East.
Of course, it started in Iran last year, where it was suppressed violently by the ruling elite.
But at the beginning of this year, Tunisian democrats -- perhaps inspired by the American Tea Party, perhaps inspired by the failed Iranian revolution – said in no uncertain terms: This is bullshit.
They kicked the autocrat out of the country, and they took control of their government. It wasn’t a peaceful revolution, but it wasn’t particularly violent either. (For example, this was no French Revolution.)
The Tunisian Tea Party seems to have inspired the Egyptians, who have long chafed under the autocracy of the Mubarak regime. Like many revolutions, the Egyptians are especially angry that the price of bread might go up. It is amazing how many revolutions start with the rising price of bread.
This in turn, is making the rulers in Jordan and Saudi Arabia very, very nervous, as their people start agitating for more power, more control and more of a say-so over their daily lives.
America has conflicting goals here. It was nice that the Tunisians kicked out their autocrat, and it would be nice if democracy could come to Iran, and while we sure would love Egypt and Jordan to become more democratic, we sure don’t want Muslim extremists to be running those countries.
Still, it is hard for us to speak out of both sides of our mouths. In the long-term, freedom should lead to more free enterprise, more democracy, more trading capabilities and closer relations with our government. In the short-term, this could get pretty ugly.
Technology, poverty, and anger at the ruling class are conspiring to create revolution in 2011, much like it did in 1848.
Revolution is in the air, and it can be very contagious.