Egypt and Tunisia: Economic turmoil after revolution?

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Shortly after revolting against their autocratic leaders, Tunisians and Egyptians are droning in the aftermath of their uprisings. The political uncertainty in Tunisia after the ousting of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has forced many Tunisians to flee across the Mediterranean. Across the border, Egyptians are belligerent about their wages and have begun to protest against the current military authority.

According to reports in Tunis, more than 5,000 illegal immigrants have recently immigrated to Italy’s southern islands — an unintended consequence of the “people’s revolution.”

“I want to change my life. We came here because now it’s not safe and there are no jobs in Tunisia,” AP quoted one Tunisian who wore a T-shirt from Italy’s AS Roma football team and who declined to give his name, citing his difficult situation.

Interior Minister Roberto Maroni has called the migration a “biblical exodus,” offering to send police to Tunisia to help tackle waves of illegal migrants fleeing political upheaval, most landing on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa — an arid one-town island of 6,000 people.

Germany, however, has criticized the Italian approach to the Tunisian crisis.

“We should help; we should get involved, but certainly not awaken an impression that Tunisia can’t resolve its own affairs. That can only be misunderstood in Tunisia itself after such a proud, great revolution,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle was quoted.

Under Tunisia’s longtime dictator, trying to immigrate to Europe was a crime punishable by fines and prison time. The law is still on the books, but would-be immigrants are taking advantage of the power vacuum to brave choppy Mediterranean waters to reach Lampedusa.

Nonetheless, Tunisians are commended for attempting to create a multiparty democratic system from scratch after more than half a century of strongman rule.

Across the boarder in Egypt, protesters who welcomed the military’s takeover after Mubarak’s resignation are now wary of the military’s ultimate intentions.

Thousands of state employees (including ambulance drivers, police officers, and bank workers) are demanding better pay, in a growing wave of labor unrest rekindled by the democracy uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak’s regime.

However, the Egyptian military rulers asked for an end to the protests in what could be a final warning before an outright ban. The military said it needed calm to implement what it promises will be an eventual handover to civilian rule under a new, more democratic system.

Protest organizers warned that the strikes would not end without a reassuring signal from the military that change will be real, beginning with the replacement of the Mubarak-picked government.

To this regard, members of the pro-democracy coalition who attended a meeting with the military on Sunday said another sit-down with leaders of the armed forces would take place later this week.

Whether the wishes of the Egyptian people for democracy will be respected still remains to be seen. It will be a long path to democracy, and not an easy one.

It also remains to be seen whether the generals are planning to listen to the pro-democracy coalition or merely sit with them.

But as far as Tunisia and Egypt are concerned, democracy is not just about holding elections; it’s much deeper than that. Democracy is a philosophy and a culture; it takes a lot of time to instill democratic principles in peoples and societies that have never known it.

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