Circle in the Sand

Continuing from yesterday on Egypt, philanthropy, and transitions. Been doing some reading about philanthropy and politics in the region, it’s fascinating stuff. The way the diffusion of revolt has been happening is impressive. This piece from the indispensable Alliance magazine is well worth a read, especially the fuller document linked within it, which has brief vignettes on more than a dozen countries in the region and the status of their current political uprisings, all inspired by Tunisia.

Now you see why comparative politics is so exciting! What explains the different rates of diffusion of revolt in these different countries? Common languages, similar cultural and religious backgrounds, but very different manifestations and levels of revolt. The thoughtful full piece by Ebba Augustin linked in the Alliance lays out a few different possible variables:

  • Bottom of the pyramid. This may be a worse pun than the one in today’s song-title-as-blog-post-title, but the demographics of these countries, with high levels of youth who have high levels of unemployment, crop up recurrently in the country vignettes.
  • The resource curse. My former Berkeley classmate Thad Dunning and many others have written about the paradoxical impact of having a lot of natural resources on a developing country. On the one hand, you have the potential to lift a lot of your people out of poverty; on the other hand, government control of the resource is an overwhelming temptation for corruption, and discovering a resource can lock in bad regimes because they become unassailable.
  • Factionalism. This familiar concept from early U.S. history plays out along ethnic and religious lines. Divided countries have fault lines that are more or less susceptible to political pressure and demagoguery.
  • The power of the public purse. Strategic government spending to provide needed social services to a population afflicted by high unemployment and stubborn poverty is used to foreclose revolt in some countries.

The particular combination of these variables in different countries makes the situation complicated and hard to predict. One thing I learned from comparative politics is that timing and sequencing matter. It made a difference for the development of Latin America and Africa that Western Europe developed first and colonized in the way that it did: European priorities shaped the parameters of subsequent state development, opening up some paths and closing off others. In a much shorter timeframe, sequencing will matter in what is hopefully part of a fourth wave of democratization.

Augustin alludes to the lessons Iraq has learned from a legacy of protests in the early 1990s that were not heeded internationally; that experience will color Iraqis’ take on these issues, and the speed with which they take up the torch of widespread revolt. Their attitude will in turn shape how other governments respond, etc., etc.

Back on Tuesday with some thoughts about where philanthropy fits into this rapidly evolving picture, and hopefully some special guest stars….

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2 Responses to “Circle in the Sand”

  1. The Blog Briefly Known as "Democratizing Philanthropy?" » Blog Archive » Revolution No. 9 Says:

    […] The Blog Briefly Known as "Democratizing Philanthropy?" BETA version, new title in the works. New post each Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday (for now). « Circle in the Sand […]

  2. The Blog Briefly Known as "Democratizing Philanthropy?" » Blog Archive » One of These Things is Not Like the Other Says:

    […] is when comparative politics, which I was trained in, really has something to say. As I’ve observed based on a great piece published in Alliance magazine, there are a variety of factors that […]

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