In a mere three week period we've seen the overthrow of an old-line government in Tunisia and, as I write, the impending similar result in Egypt. The rapid succession of events in the latter is simply staggering. All of this history unfolding in full view of the world is both awe inspiring and frightening. What initially seemed to be somewhat "old news" cable releases by Wikileaks has served as a spark plug for simmering tensions in both countries.
The implications of these events are cause for grave concern by other similar middle eastern nations and, perhaps more importantly, the world as a whole. The prospect of a spreading revolt throughout all of the middle east is most unthinkable. The delicate balance of power in the region, particularly regarding Israel, is at stake. The potential opportunity for terrorist activity is certainly a possibility, though perhaps somewhat exaggerated.
The economic ramifications to a world just recovering from global recession could be unfathomable.
While Egypt has little oil to speak of, a huge percentage of the middle eastern oil, as well as other goods, travel through the Suez Canal, dug by the Egyptians 5000 years ago.. As we all learned in grade school geography, the 100 mile trip through the canal could turn into a 6000 mile trip around the Horn of Africa. Whether intentional or not, any interruption of the canal's operation could cause gasoline prices to rise to astronomical levels overnight.
But perhaps the most disturbing is the inevitable suffering of the innocents in the chaos of anarchy. There have already been some killed and numerous injuries, but the foreboding prospect of continued instability could cause a rapid implosion of basic services. Hospitals are already suffering strain from the injuries. There no longer seems to be an operational government in place as all the ministries have been under siege.
The usual criminal element to be found in any society are out in force robbing and looting, and some 10,000 prisoners have escaped jails. The citizens have formed vigilante groups to protect property, the police having disappeared. One can only surmise as to the effect on public utilities if there is a protracted conflict.
But what lessons and conclusions can be drawn from all this? What exactly is going on here? And should all this serve as a warning? The experts are raising all sorts of scenarios as to what has happened and where it is all leading. There most likely is some validity to all of them , and I have my own guesses as well.
I believe what we are witnessing here boils down to two growing realities.
The first reality is a function of our 21st century technology. It is clear now that there really are no secrets. Not for governments. Not for the rich and elite. Not for anyone. Any analysis of these events that does not include the effect of the recently released Wikileaks documents would be remiss. Many of them were secret diplomatic cables that shed a most unfavorable light on governments of the region and their relationships both with each other and with businesses.
In an obscure article last month in The New York Times a former NSA director admitted there was no such thing as a totally secure computer, not even in government. There are now copycat sites ready to open such as Openleaks which plans it's launch soon. They are promising even more damaging document releases that will target governments and business interests. Even the most disadvantaged individuals on earth now have access to knowledge that was once kept secret.
The explosion of communication technology has far outstripped the ability of most governments to effectively stop the flow of information. Wireless internet, cell phones, texting, and social networking are the tools of the current uprisings. Egyptian protesters are even calling their revolt the "Facebook Revolution". In the face of government shutdown of these services a trickle of information still got out and in. Service provider experts are saying that newer technology and distributed networks are making it more or less impossible to totally stop the flow of information by any government crackdown.
Governments and the well-connected elites they do business with can no longer hide the dirty business they have used to oppress the unfortunate. In this regard the world and how we relate to each other has changed forever.
The second and, I believe, far more important reality is one of historic economic certainty, that has repeated itself time after time.
The majority of populist uprisings have more to do with poverty and wealth disparity than with lack of freedom. Human beings have a tendency to accept certain restrictions on their freedoms as long as their basic needs are being met (see Maslow's Theory of Heirarchy of Needs).