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Opinions are fun. My friends tell me I am someone with lots of opinions and that's fine since I don't get mad at others when they disagree with me. In this same spirit I am interested in hearing yours views as long as you are able to share your views without boiling over. I look forward to hearing from you. I tend to write in the form of short essays most of the time, but contributions do not need to be in this same format or size. Some of the content here will date itself pretty quickly, other content may be virtually timeless, this is for the reader to judge.

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Bread and Circuses                                                                                     Print this essay

Posted at: Feb/16/2011 : Posted by: mel

Related Category: World Watching,

Have you heard the term “Bread and Circuses” before? The phrase originates from a Roman poet named Juvenal from around 100AD (now CE). In content the phrase points to how the Roman populace had given up its birthright of political involvement for bread and circuses. Specifically, Juvenal was pointing to how Roman politicians no longer attained power through heroism, instead they acquired their popular appeal and rise to power through the distribution of free wheat, bread, and putting on expensive events such as gladiatorial games.

You may ask “why the history lesson?” Because history has a way of repeating itself (by the way, if you watch the movie Gladiator you will see some of this taking place).

If you have been watching any news, things are changing very rapidly in the Persian Gulf and Northern Africa. After years of dictators, autocratic regimes and sham democracies the dominos are beginning to tumble. Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali recently fled his country in response to a popular uprising. Inspired by Tunisia, Egyptians flocked to the streets and within 15 days Hosni Mubarak had ceded power to the military after 35 years of control. As I pointed out earlier, this is like dominos, at least when they fall. A new rounds of protests have erupted in Algeria, Iran, Yemen, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Recent reports even mention Egyptian style protests taking place in Gadhafi’s Libya. These countries as well as many others in the same region are all suffering similar fates. While some of these countries are oil rich, many aren’t, the majority of the under 35 year old population of these countries are without work and unable to afford food at the current prices.

Right now everyone from neighboring dictators to democracy activists are trying to figure out what will happen next. Obviously, for many of these long entrenched dictators there is a definite fear that they could be next.

This kind of revolutionary fever over a large regional area is not a new phenomenon. Similar waves of revolutionary fever have a history of spreading very quickly. That was the case in 1989, when one communist dictatorship after another toppled in Eastern Europe. And it was the case back in 1848, when revolutions took place across most of Europe.

The ulimate effect of all these protest remains unpredictable. Just as unpredictable is the responses that the various besieged leaders are displaying. In Libya, the police are using rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse protesters. In Yemen, some 2000 police have been firing live rounds in the air to attempt to disperse crowds. In oil rich countries the response has been different in at least one case.

In Bahrain the government there has offered each family $2,600 to ease dissent and ameliorate the pinch of rising food prices (Shades of bread and circuses). Nonetheless, protesters continued to control the main square. Despite its wealth, the monarchy in Bahrain is in a fragile position because of the Muslim divide. Bahrain is run by Sunni Muslims but has a Shiite majority. There is a great disparity in standards of living between the two groups and Shiites are hoping to acquire some of the offices and power previously reserved for the Sunni minority.

Perhaps the primary reason that protests are spreading across the Arab World is that in most of these countries they share some similar problems. In many cases, their leaders have held unquestioned power for a long time, often decades. These same entrenched leaders appear to have made themselves wealthy while others have suffered with a lack of opportunity and food. During these same decades their economies have fallen behind. The majority of their population below 35 years of age has little or no prospect for finding work. Additionally, prices for food have reached the point where starvation on a massive and regional level is a real possibility. Even in Bahrain, protests have not been quelled despite the offer of $2,600 in Roman style bread money. It will be interesting to see if we are next shown a circus.

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