Experts predicted the world a global repetition of the “Arab spring” due to the Ukrainian crisis

Rising food and fuel prices are generating a global wave of political instability: from Africa to Europe

A global crisis, exacerbated by the consequences of Western anti-Russian sanctions due to the conflict in Ukraine, threatens the world not not only socio-economic, but also political upheavals. Analysts are increasingly referring to current events, recalling the “Arab Spring”, which caused cataclysms on a global scale.

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When people took to the streets of Egypt in 2011, the protesters demanded not only freedom and social justice, but also bread, recalls the events of the “Arab spring” CNN Business. The cost of staples then skyrocketed due to the skyrocketing prices of commodities such as wheat, angering Egyptians against President Hosni Mubarak.

Now, more than a decade after the Arab Spring, world food prices are rising again. Earlier this year, they already reached an all-time high as the coronavirus pandemic, bad weather and the climate crisis upended agriculture and threatened the food security of millions of people. Then came the conflict in Ukraine, which in addition caused a sharp increase in the cost of another daily necessities – fuel.

This combination of rising food and fuel prices could create a wave of political instability as, in various countries, people who were already frustrated by the actions of governments are pushed to the breaking point by rising costs.

“This is extremely worrisome,”— comments Rabah Arezki, senior fellow at the Harvard School of Government. Kennedy and former chief economist at the African Development Bank.

Unrest in Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Peru, which have flared up in recent days. highlight risks. Protests have erupted in Sri Lanka over a shortage of fuel and other essential commodities. Double-digit inflation in Pakistan has eroded support for Prime Minister Imran Khan, forcing him to leave office. At least six people have died in Peru's recent anti-government protests sparked by rising fuel prices. But it is expected that the political conflict will not be limited to these countries.

“I don't think people have felt the full impact of the price hike yet,” says Hamish Kinnear, Middle East and North Africa analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, a global risk consultancy.

Ahead of anti-government protests that have received called the “Arab Spring”, which began in Tunisia in late 2010 and spread to the Middle East and North Africa in 2011, food prices soared, reminds CNN Business. The food price index from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reached 106.7 in 2010 and jumped to 131.9 in 2011, a record.

Circumstances varied from country to country, but the overall picture was clear. Rising wheat prices have become a major part of the problem.

Now the situation is even worse than it was then, on the eve of the “Arab Spring”. World food prices have just reached a new record high. The FAO Food Price Index, released on Friday, hit 159.3 in March, up nearly 13% from February. The conflict in Ukraine, the largest exporter of wheat, corn and vegetable oils, and tough sanctions on Russia, a key producer of wheat and fertilizer, are expected to push prices further up in the coming months.

“Forty percent of wheat exports and corn from Ukraine are in the Middle East and Africa, which are already facing hunger and where further food shortages or rising prices could trigger social unrest,” said Gilbert Hungbo, head of the International Agriculture Fund.

To this problem is added a jump in energy prices. World oil prices are almost 60% higher than a year ago. The cost of coal and natural gas has also risen sharply.

Many governments struggle to protect their citizens, but fragile economies that borrowed heavily to weather the 2008 financial crisis and pandemic are the most vulnerable. As growth slows, hurting their currencies and making debt repayment difficult, sustaining food and fuel subsidies will be difficult, especially if prices continue to rise.

“Now we are in a situation where countries are mired in debt , says Rabah Arezki. “As a result, they do not have buffers to try to contain the tensions that such high prices will create.”

According to the World Bank, on the eve of the outbreak of the conflict in Ukraine, about 60% of the poorest countries “already faced debt crisis or were at high risk of it.”

Tensions are rising in various parts of the world. In Sri Lanka, an island nation of 22 million people, the economic and political crisis is already simmering, with protesters taking to the streets despite curfews and mass resignations of ministers. Faced with high levels of debt and a weak tourism-dependent economy, Sri Lanka has been forced to reduce its foreign exchange reserves. This prevented the government from making payments for major imports such as energy, leading to devastating shortages and forcing people to queue for hours for fuel.

The country's leaders also devalued their currency, the Sri Lankan rupee, in an attempt to get financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund. But this only increased inflation at home. In January, it reached 14%, which is almost twice the rate of price growth in the US.

On Sunday, Pakistan's parliament passed a vote of no confidence in Prime Minister Imran Khan, removing him from power and overthrowing his government. While his political problems date back many years, claims of economic mismanagement due to soaring food and fuel prices and depletion of foreign exchange reserves have exacerbated the situation. “The scale of the economic chaos has united opposition to Imran Khan,” says Hamish Kinnear of Verisk Maplecroft.

Experts are also watching for signs of political crisis in the Middle East, which is heavily dependent on food imports from the Black Sea region and often provides generous subsidies to the population.

In Lebanon, where nearly three-quarters of the population lived below the poverty line last year as a result of political and economic collapse, 70% to 80% of wheat imports come from Russia and Ukraine. Key granaries were also destroyed in the Beirut port explosion in 2020.

And Egypt, the world's largest buyer of wheat, is already under enormous pressure on its massive bread subsidy program. The country recently fixed the price of unsubsidized bread after a price spike and is instead trying to secure wheat imports from countries such as India and Argentina.

With about 70% of the world's poor living in Africa, Arezka estimates, the continent will also be “highly exposed” to rising food and energy prices. Droughts and conflicts in countries such as Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan and Burkina Faso have left more than a quarter of the continent's population in food insecurity, the International Committee of the Red Cross said this week. The situation risks worsening in the coming months, the expert continues.

Political instability is already on the rise in parts of the continent. Since the beginning of 2021, a series of upheavals have taken place in West and Central Africa.

Europe has not bypassed the troubles, CNN Business notes. Even the more advanced economies, which have large reserves to protect citizens from painful price increases, will not have the tools to fully cushion the blow.

Thousands of protesters gathered this week in cities across Greece to demand higher wages to fight inflation as tensions mount in the wake of the French presidential election as far-right candidate Marine Le Pen plays up his plans to lower the cost of living. President Emmanuel Macron's government said last month it was considering issuing food stamps to help middle- and low-income families be able to afford to eat.


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