From bread lines to revolution: the role of food in the Arab Spring uprisings

August 15, 2011

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(AP Photo/Hossam Ali)
Egyptians wait in long lines for the government-subsidized bread that so many of them rely on to survive.

As we begin to identify the factors that sparked the Arab Spring uprisings, the list includes likely culprits such as oppressive dictators, faltering economies and Western influence.

One factor that’s less obvious is the relationship between food and power in the Middle East. Today in our occasional series Food Mondays, we explore this often overlooked connection.

In 2010, nearly half of the top 20 wheat importers in the world were Middle Eastern countries, including Egypt, Yemen, Libya and Tunisia. And it’s not a coincidence that these nations have experienced instability.

Annia Ciezadlo is a journalist and author of Day of Honey: a Memoir of Food, Love and War, which chronicles the relationship between food and power in the Middle East. She says this connection goes back decades. In fact, so many Middle Eastern regimes had come to rely on food subsidies to ensure stability that Tunisian scholar Larbi Sadiki described the tactic as “the democracy of bread.”