Sunday, 21 July 2013

Roots of instability?

I haven't blogged for nearly two months. I have not commented on the ousting of Morsi, who asked for trouble by trying to change the constitution, bypass the judges and make himself into a new dictator. This week's New Scientist (20th July) has a fascinating article, 'Youthquake' about how the structure of populations affects politics. When improved health care causes a fall in infant mortality, there is usually a time lag before the birth rate falls. The consequence is a bulge in the younger age groups, and a diagram of the age classes looks like a pyramid. When the birth rate comes down, this bulging cohort moves up until eventually there is a large body of older people resting on a narrow base. The suggestion is that societies with too many young people are subject to political stresses and possible violence, with large numbers of unemployed youths, disaffected and ready to riot. In a more mature society, the large middle-aged cohort has an interest in the status quo. This could help to explain why Tunisia, with a relatively balanced age structure, has succeeded where Egypt has failed. Syria too has a pyramid that bulges at the base, but the older generation bears a heavy responsibility for the revival of the medieval quarrel between Sunna and Shia. The religious leaders of the 1920s were wiser, but the secular societies that they tried to create were undermined by British and French policies of 'divide and rule'.