Whatever happened to Tunisia? The most unlikely starting point of the political turmoil that has swept the Arab world has dropped out of the headlines. While Tunisia wrestles with the realisation that toppling a flaky leader is, in this case, a lot easier than root and branch regime change, the news crews and international affairs pundits have moved on.
Many have hopped over the border into neighbouring Libya where Colonel Gaddafi’s reluctance to follow the script and slip away quietly into the night has created better television than the slow grind of thwarted expectations available in Tunis. But even in Libya, media audiences are no longer glued to their screens in anticipation of a sudden resolution to the stalemate between the western-backed rebels and regime loyalists in Tripoli.
Gaddafi will go eventually and then the media caravan will return in force to see what damage has been done by the civil war dragging on for longer than planned. We are already helping clients with interests in the country to plan the re-establishment of their business in post-Gaddafi Libya, whatever that looks like. With two percent of the world’s oil output and a population of less than six million people, Libya should be the Norway of North Africa. Minus the fjords.
Norway has a reputation for boring politics and boring politics is precisely what Libya will need. For the combination of enormous hydrocarbon wealth and dynastic dictatorship is never a good idea. When you concentrate a nation’s natural riches on a narrow political elite drawn from the shallow end of the gene pool then the result is nearly always messy.
But even the extraordinary events in Libya have to compete for airtime with a multitude of other geo-dramas across the world. Europe is in the grip of the Euro-zone crisis, the USA in budget deadlock. The election in Thailand adds another twist of sibling intrigue to the country’s convoluted politic machinations. Meanwhile, the ruler of Bahrain has taken the unprecedented step of appointing an international commission to investigate the government’s handling of the crisis. And a new nation is born in South Sudan.
It is an exciting time to be in the risk business with so many countries undergoing remarkable change and volatile markets finding it difficult to keep tabs on events. But for Tunisians it must seem that their bright new dawn has faded. It was indeed an unlikely location to kick off the string of revolts across the region and it will be unfortunate if the people that started the process stand to gain the least in the long run.
But the greatest upset of all would be if the Syrians were to succeed in toppling the Assad regime. It seemed impossible at first and is still unlikely. Like in Iran, the lack of western support and influence combined with a willingness to be repressive means that the regime will most likely survive. But the rebels have shown extraordinary courage and real persistence. It would be remarkable if – against the odds – they were to do it.