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Betting on Arab Revolution

>No sooner had Hosni Mubarak”s departure been announced than the bookmakers started taking bets on which would be the next country to experience an outbreak of social unrest. bmaker.ag, the world”s biggest online betting shop, has Yemen as favourite. A bet on a mass uprising in that country would win the punter 1.8 times the stake. You could double your money with Jordan, or triple it with Algeria. Saudi Arabia represents the jackpot, with winnings at 16 times the ante.

The bookies seem to be a decent political barometer, because over the weekend thousands of young people took to the streets of the Yemeni capital Sana”a, calling for the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. There was also unrest in the Algerian capital Algiers, where around 2000 protested demonstrated against the rule of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, under the watchful eyes of 30,000 police.

“Middle class crucial”
“Yemen and Algeria,” former Radio Netherlands Worldwide Middle East expert Bertus Hendriks agrees. “That”s where I”d be most worried if I was in charge.” But there are also other candidates on the list, he says: Jordan, Syria, Iran and Morocco.

“What these countries have in common are very youthful populations where active young people have a university education, but nothing they can do with it. And a government that bans any possible form of political organisation, and isn”t capable of offering people any prospects or sense of control over their own lives.”

The role of the middle class is crucial, says Hendriks. “Lawyers and doctors are experiencing a constant loss of status. An elite of new rich around the president or king has taken a tight hold of the economic interests through corruption.” This is true for Algeria, but not for poverty-stricken Yemen. “It”s not just about poverty but also unshared wealth,” he says.

Domino effect
An even more important factor affecting the chances of an uprising is the position and size of the army, says RNW editor Omar Elkeddi, who is originally from Libya.“The army has to be larger than the police or security forces and prepared to side with the people,” he says. “That could happen in Syria, but not in Libya or Algeria.”

The possibility of a revolution domino

effect in the Middle East depends on the way things pan out in Egypt, says Bertus Hendriks. The potential for unrest to spread shouldn”t be underestimated, but first people will have to

see the beginnings of a democratic process in Egypt. “Look at Iraq,” he says. “There democracy was imposed from outside. But what do we see? A huge bloodbath. That”s had a negative effect on the movements for democracy in the region.”

On Monday it”s the turn of anti-government protestors in Iran and Bahrain. In Iran, the opposition has called a demonstration in support of the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. And in the Gulf state Bahrain, the Shi”ite opposition is stirring. King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa has hurried to surprise every Bahraini family with a “bonus” of 1,000 dinar (around 1,965 euros). Major demonstrations aren”t expected, though – at the bookmakers Bahrain is good for ten times the stake.


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