World Clock

Friday, 18 February 2011

The J-Curve in Action Throughout the Middle East - FT Reports

How has the death of a Tunisian citizen opened a can of worms that may never be closed in the Middle East. According to an article published on the website, the events while been chaotic and disorderly in nature are part of 'powerful political phenomenon' been played out before our very eyes.

This 'powerful political phenomenon' known as the J-Curve or the dip in stability as countries move from closed to open societies. This is a possible explanation of why so many autocratic governments in the region may be caught in a trap they cannot escape.

According to the J-Curve, the theory goes like this:- 

The theory goes like this. If you plot the relationship between a country’s stability (on the vertical axis) and its social and political openness (on the horizontal axis) the points that mark every possible combination of openness and stability will produce a pattern that resembles the letter J. Most countries start off closed and stable (think: North Korea). Many end up open and stable (like Britain). But in between there is a turbulent transition. Some governments, such as post-apartheid South Africa, survive this transition. Others – the Soviet Union, Iran under the shah and the former Yugoslavia – do not

Another factor must also be added to the equation, this is the impact of globalisation and the substantial effect it is having on the the youth population of the Middle East. Most notable is the effect that social media websites such as twitter and facebook are having on the region, most recently in Egypt, which gave people the ability to organise mass protests and demonstrations as never before. This was immediately recognised by the security services and the government who moved to cut off the internet and ordered companies such Vodafone to temporarily shut down their network.

The J-Curve a relatively recent theory was first brought to public attention in 2006 and proved to be quite controversial. This was because it was hijacked by people seeking to explain the unstable environment in post-war Iraq. The current events in the Region provide a much better example of the Theory in action.

Although the J-Curve presents a convincing argument for what is currently going on in the Middle East it does have drawbacks. That is, strong authoritarian regimes such as China and to a lesser extent Saudi Arabia that have maintained strong economic growth that have effectively pushed up the J-Curve.

There are two possible outcomes in the Middle East based upon this theory:- 
  1. that is the the leaders can hope to suppress the populations of the most isolated countries in a bid to cling onto power. However Tunisia's leader Ben Ali learnt the hardest possible way this isn't always possible.
  2. alternatively there is the Jordanian solution been implemented by King Abdullah, which is to gradual put in place reforms - however this also carries risks. Since it is real reform people are after, this presents increased risks since this requires their respective leaders to surrender some forms of state control. This could very well hasten the pace of change.
Jordan is been closely watched by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and more significantly given recent events over last few days Bahrain. As Jordan is gradually allowing its citizens more freedom of speech, if this backfires then it will make the leaders of the other three countries deeply reluctant to follow its lead.

Given the substantial income from their natural resources i.e. oil & gas, sweeping political reform is made a great deal easier than in Jordan, a country which relies heavily on foreign aid for its survival.

But going back to the root of this crisis [Tunisia] countries such as Saudi Arabia & Jordan know full well that it only takes a spark to ignite a country. Even those who can afford instability that accompanies the depths of the J-Curve may be fearful to begin the journey best exemplified by Egypt 

Purchase the J-Curve here

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