The law of unintended consequences


A recent study by the Pew Research Center highlights the unintended consequences of what was at some point dubbed “The Arab Spring”. The study looks at the indicators of Social Hostility toward other religions and the indicator of Government restrictions on religion for the Middle East-Northern Africa region...

The report, released earlier this month, is called “Arab Spring Adds to Global Restrictions on Religion”. It uses two constructed indicators to facilitate comparison between different regions. Both, the GRI (Government Restriction Index) as well as the SHI (Social Hostility Index) are constructed on a 1 to 10 scale to rate 198 countries and self-governing territories on their levels of restrictions. The GRI measures, more properly stated, the population's perception of Government restrictions rather than the restrictions themselves, while the same caveat needs to be made regarding the SHI. Based on the statistical distribution of the values obtained, countries are classified into categories based on their scores. Countries with GRI 6.6 or higher, are considered countries with very high government restrictions; those with scores between 4.5 and 6.5 fall in the “high” category; those with scores 2.4 to 4.4 into the “moderate” category and from 0.0 to 2.3 they are classified as “low restriction”. The categories for the SHI are “Very High” from 7.2 to 10; “High” from 3.6 to 7.1; “moderate” from 1.5 to 3.5 and “Low” from 0.0 to 1.4.

Since this study is conducted annually, another important indicator is the change in these indicators from one year to the next. Changes that increase the score indicate worsening conditions, and the larger the change, the more abrupt that change has been. Changes that decrease the score values reflect improving situations.

If we compare the changes in scores between 2007 (when the first study was done) and 2011 (the year of the Arab Spring) in different regions – the GRI in the Middle East-Northern Africa region increased from 4.7 to 5.9. The Index of 5.9 in 2011 compares to 4.2 for the Asia-Pacific region, 2.2 for Europe, 1.9 for sub-Saharan Africa and 1.5 for the Americas.

The Social Hostility Index (SHI) in that same period for the Middle East-North Africa region changed from 3.7 to 5.4. In 2011, the Asia-Pacific region reflected a 2.2 index, Europe 2.3, Sub-Saharan Africa 1.5 and the Americas 0.6.

In 2007, among the countries considered to have very high Government Restriction Index values we find only 4 Middle Eastern Countries: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey and Egypt. In 2011, while Turkey was dropped from this category, Algeria, Syria, Yemen and Sudan were rated in this group.

The evolution of scores shows a considerable increase of SHI in Arab countries following the beginning of the Arab spring. If you are interested in the full study, you can see it on line at the Pew Research Center website.

The point I'm trying to make is that while the governments in place at the beginning of the latest Arab revolt were dictatorial and oppressive, their overthrow paved the way for new regimes which are not substantially different from the previous ones saved in ideology. Perhaps the most explosive case is that if Syria: The current civil war sides are defined along religious lines...Shiites and Alawites (a Shiite offshoot group) confronting Sunnite groups, with some minorities like Kurds straddling the fence and outside groups like Hezbollah supporting one side. The resulting situation is one of high social hostility (SHI) and the confounding of religious and political divides...the hating of people for what they believe and not for what they do. Some Israeli observers claim that the Syrian civil war could eventually spill over and engulf the region in a civil war not unlike the Thirty Year War in Europe. Again, the best of intentions prepared the way, unintentionally, for great violence and destruction.

As I think about the Law of Unintended Consequences, I cannot help but ask myself what could be the unintended consequences of allowing the establishment of a Palestinian State without negotiations with Israel...and I can feel the blood freezing in my veins. The two State Solution is intended to develop an accommodation between the Jewish State of Israel and the Arab State of Palestine with mutually agreed borders and security for all. Bypassing negotiations, as the Palestinian leaderships keeps trying to do, can only bring more violence and death. When people talk, the “other” acquires a face and becomes a person – making it a lot more difficult to ignore. It is my hope that the Palestinians will soon return to the negotiation table and do their best to help build the Peace that tortured land so badly needs...


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