Russian journalist Dmitry Bavyrin writing in Vz.ru scoffs at both naïve Western views that the Arab Spring was triggered by a thirst for democracy but also at the pro-regime narrative that Western intelligence agencies, seeking to impose more supine regimes were behind the unrest. He claims that Russia inadvertently caused the outburst by withholding grain for export thus driving up bread prices. As Russia, recently imposed similar controls to lower prices within Russia, Middle Eastern countries like Egypt that have seen their tourism industry crushed by the coronavirus are ripe for a renewed outburst. The Middle East, burdened by overpopulation and endemic food crises, will always be the planet's tinderbox.
Bavyrin's article follows below:
2017 Egyptian bread riots (Source: Financialtribune.com)
"The romantic image of the Tunisian revolution (the first one on the list of the Arab Spring revolutions) must include a story of Mohamed Bouazizi, a street greengrocer from the city of Sidi Bouzid, who committed self-immolation in protest against the authorities' arbitrariness.
"Bouazizi was selling fruits without a license. He was fined, and his electronic scale was confiscated. This was followed by a scandal: he was slapped in a face by an official, his street counter with goods was overturned and a complaint to the mayor's office went unanswered, and then came Bouazizi's suicide, was followed by multi-thousand- strong demonstrations many thousands-strong in his behalf.
"Less than a month later, President Ben Ali, who ruled Tunisia with an iron fist for almost a quarter of a century, fled the country. This happened exactly 10 years ago on January 14, 2011.
"It is considered, that the success of the Tunisians inspired the residents of about twenty countries in Africa and the Middle East.
"In some countries, the riots were suppressed, in others - the authorities managed to buy off the revolutionaries with reforms, however, in some states, the protests led to the fall of the ruling regime and / or to war. In Libya, Yemen and Syria, wars are still ongoing.
"Anyhow, the "Arab Spring" also affected the global world order. The rise of ISIS, the migration crisis in Europe, and a series of monstrous terrorist attacks are associated with the "Arab Spring".
"However, Tunisia has become, perhaps, the only country where the fall of the authorities in 2011 brought more pluses than minuses (as the saying goes - "beginner's luck"): about 200 people died; but without the Ben Ali's corrupt mode of management, the state has democratized, its development accelerated, and it is coasting along.
"However, Tunisia was a relatively a prosperous country even prior to the revolution, that's why it pulled out a "lucky ticket" from a "boiling pot of flesh" [got lucky amidst a backdrop of disasters in other countries]. This blissful picture is marred, perhaps, by only one fact to which very few people in the West paid attention in 2011... The insult [slap in the face] that prompted Bouazizi to commit suicide was inflicted on him not just by an official, but by a female official, which is a terrible thing for a religious Arab. In other words, today the street vendor would not have been able to claim the status of a "warrior of progress", because he doesn't conform to the gender equality era.
"However, the problem that inundated the 'Arab world' in blood (which subsequently spilled over to Europe) is not rooted, of course, in the conflict between the greengrocer and the official.
"There were largely individual prerequisites for revolutions in each specific country [of the "Arab world"], but the common denominator is not the Arabs' desire for democracy (as the West preferred to believe), but overpopulation, accelerated urbanization and unemployment.
"Thus, if in Tunisia, in a sense, people didn't know how good they were living and rallied due to idleness (the hard core of protests against Ben Ali was made up of educated, but unemployed youth), then in Egypt (where the revolutionaries were the second to succeed) obviously impoverished people, who were literally starving, took to the streets.
"It was there and then that big politics got involved in the revolutionary processes, and opinion hardened in the Russian opinion pages that the entire Arab Spring was (to one degree or another) instigated by the CIA in order to change the authorities of the oil-rich countries to more loyal ones.
"One cannot deny the active participation of the United States in later events (for example, in Libya and Syria). But the truth is that many rulers, both those who survived the spring riots and those who did not, were already oriented toward Washington. Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak represents one of them.
"Egypt being the most populated, important and influential country in the region (perhaps, with the exception of Saudi Arabia), of course, tried to pursue its own policy, but in general was oriented towards America.
"Hosni Mubarak's replacement with a representative of the Muslim Brotherhood movement was clearly not [the scenario] that Washington desired, therefore the subsequent counter-revolution led by Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was quite positively assessed in the United States. [the positive assessment persists] although the current regime does not resemble democracy, and for many, it is a re-edition of the Mubarak system ...
"Now one can confidently state that the Egyptian revolution (the most ambitious and significant in the framework of the "Arab Spring") was provoked not by US actions, but by Russia's trade policy.
"Russia may have contributed to the social crisis in the Nile Valley not accidentally, though at the same time not deliberately, but due to force majeure.
"Summer 2010 in the Russian Federation was difficult: record temperatures, forest fires, cities suffocating from smog, drought, crop failure. To avoid a significant increase in bread prices, the government imposed an embargo on wheat exports, which placed Egypt in difficult circumstances.
"From a school course on ancient civilizations, almost everyone knows that the Nile Valley has fed the Egyptians for thousands of years: the silt left by the river provided high soil fertility. However, this was the previous case, but now Egypt's population has grown so much, that the country is forced to buy grain abroad, mostly - in Russia (it is cheaper and customary). In the beginning of 2011, Egypt was unable to do so.
"A sharp increase in the price of bread (which is a diet staple for millions of Egyptians) inevitably caused social unrest. This commotion became so large-scale that the planet is still experiencing its consequences. And mid-term forecasts already predict a new crisis.
"The reasons for the new crisis are similar, although their circumstances differ. The harvest of 2020 in Russia was quite decent, which cannot be said about a number of other bread exporting countries. As a result, world grain prices have increased. In order to guard against excessive outflows of wheat abroad and price increases within the country, the Russian government introduced export duties of 25 euros per ton and is now considering doubling them.
"Recently, news arrived that the Egyptian authorities simply canceled the next monthly tender for grain supplies. Grain [has become] too expensive, and the General Authority For Supply Commodities (GASC) simply does not have such money now.
"If a solution will not be found, the situation could turn into a crisis, since according to a number of indicators, the current situation in Egypt is even graver than in 2011. The coronavirus was quite merciless for countries where tourism constitutes one of the key industries.
"Even if social unrest can be averted, it won't be canceled, but postponed. In just 20 years (from 2000 to 2020) the Egypt's population increased by one third, exceeding 100 million people. Optimists believe that this figure will double by the end of the century, pessimists believe, that it will happen earlier.
"Similar problems, albeit on a smaller scale, are typical to many Arab countries, making the region the planet's 'powder keg'. [The risk will remain] until the Arab countries will be fully affected by a demographic transition from multi-child [families] in favor of a European type family).
"Crop failures will force people to flee to cities, and unemployment will push them to riots, which will be especially violent and bloody in those countries, where grain prices remain a "matter of life and death".
"Not only Egypt, but also other countries understand this problem and try to solve it. The topic of food security is actively discussed in the UN and at other international fora , such as NATO. Often, this is at the behest of Russia, which has become one of the most important external players in the Arab world..
"What the layman views as boring statistics, reminiscent of Soviet harvest reports, has in reality become the cornerstone of international security. Either the world will be able to feed the restless Middle East, or it will receive new revolutions, armed conflicts, migration crises and terrorist wars, which (as it happened before) will begin with a rise in bread prices. And it doesn't matter what they [the West] will tell us about the feat of the Tunisian greengrocer, in 2012 who posthumously received the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought."
Dmitry Bavyrin (Source: Vz.ru)
 See MEMRI Special Dispatch, No. 9096, Russian Economist Zhukovsky: Putin's Shocked Reaction At Price Rises Is Laughable, The Government Has Consistently Fueled Inflation And Depressed Living Standards, December 17, 2020.
 Vz.ru, January 14, 2021.