SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (Reuters) - The Arab League chief warned the region’s leaders on Wednesday to heed economic and political problems that sparked Tunisia’s upheaval because Arab citizens’ anger had reached an unprecedented level.
Widespread public protests in Tunisia — prompted by high prices, a lack of jobs and political repression — toppled the country’s president of 23 years, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.
Arab populations across the Middle East and North Africa complain about the same issues that beset Tunisia and have been mesmerised by TV images of an autocrat being flung from office by street action — events not seen in the region for decades.
“What is happening in Tunisia in terms of the revolution is not an issue far from the issues of this summit which is economic and social development,” the League’s Amr Moussa told an Arab economic summit in Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh resort.
“The Arab citizen has entered a stage of anger that is unprecedented. I am certain that achieving full development that is tangible to the Arab citizens will relieve our societies of these challenges,” he said.
Arab officials have played down the prospects that events in Tunisia could spread. Egypt’s president did not directly mention Tunisia in his speech although he broadly called for economic development. Kuwait’s emir called for national unity in Tunisia.
Moussa, who has a habit of making blunt assertions in a region better known for discreet diplomacy, said shortly before the summit that Tunisia should not be seen as an isolated case and a lesson should be learned.
“It is on everyone’s mind that the Arab self is broken by poverty, unemployment and a general slide in indicators,” he said in Wednesday’s speech, referring to Tunisian events as an example of “big social shocks” facing many Arab societies.
“This is in addition to political problems that have not been resolved,” he said, adding that poor management of such issues was further complicating the situation.
Analysts say events in Tunisia have unsettled the world of entrenched Arab rulers and their image of governments with military backing that are immune to discontent.
They also say the Tunisian protests, which were not driven by Islamic slogans, throws into question the argument propounded by authoritarian Arab rulers that they are the bulwark against Islamist radicals sweeping to power.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak noted problems of rising prices, job creation and other economic issues in the region in his opening address, but made no direct reference to Tunisia. He largely blamed such problems on global issues.
“We are not isolated from the world with its problems, challenges and crises,” Mubarak, who has been in power for three decades, told leaders as he took the summit chair from Kuwait.
“Employment and creating employment opportunities will remain one of the most important challenges we face ... We have priorities to achieve food security and combat climate change impacts,” Mubarak added.
Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah called for national unity in Tunisia to overcome its problems, as well as listing economic problems across the region.
“We look forward to efforts towards solidarity in Tunisia to overcome this particular stage and achieve stability and security,” he said.