Syria, Assad and the Arab Spring

February 8th, 2012

by Doug Short

Last October I posted a commentary, Libya, Ghaddafi and the Arab Spring, shortly after Ghaddafi's death at the hands of the Libyan National Liberation Army. It was the third major Arab regime to be overthrown in 2011.

Since that time Ali Abdullah Saleh has resigned the presidency of Yemen, which remains in a state of turmoil. And the media spotlight is currently on the escalating conflict in Syria.

The underlying forces behind the Arab Spring are complex and vary from country to country. But a key factor is demographics, as a glance at the population pyramids below suggests.

A common denominator of the five is an aging ruling party unable to control a population bulge of young adults afflicted by high unemployment, food inflation, corruption, an absence of political freedoms and generally poor living conditions.

The five pyramids above differ somewhat from one another, especially the pattern of contracting growth in Tunisia. But the all exhibit the common demographic of young adult males in the numbers necessary to mount a successful overthrow of the government.

Syria's Bashar al-Assad is the youngest of the five rules depicted in the charts above. But therein lies a story. He inherited the presidency in 2000, after the Syrian parliament amended the constitution within 48 hours of the death of his father Hafez al-Assad, after his 30-year presidency, to lower the minimum age for the president from 40 to 34.

For the sake of comparison, here is 2012 population pyramid for the United States. The difference in the ratio of young males to the older political power base is obvious.

Last year I posted a commentary on Boomer Demographics: The Shift Ahead, which was an outgrowth of my presentation at the Retirement Industry Income Association (RIIA) 2011 Fall Conference in Boston. More recently I discussed the Decline of Peak Spenders — a powerful trend currently impacting the US economy.

My focus on demographics, as in the Boomer piece, has generally explored the financial implications of an aging population on government debt and the slow-motion ripple effect on markets and the economy. I'll have more to share on this topic over the next few weeks as I prepare for RIIA's 2011 Spring Conference in Chicago on March 19-20. (I hope to see some of you there.)

My primary interest in demographics has been on long-term trends that can have profound effects but evolve slowly. Sometimes, however, the impact of demographics can be sudden and explosive, as we continue to see in the Arab Spring.

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