Meet Your Middle Eastern Neighbor

The map below is an opportunity to further explore the uprisings in the Middle East through the eyes of New Yorkers.

The revolts currently sweeping across the Arab world surprised many people. Out of nowhere, it seemed, masses of young, energetic people took to the Internet and to the streets. They demanded the ouster of rulers who had been in power for decades. They demanded freedom and a voice in their government.

Yet a closer look at Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Algeria, and Bahrain reveals that these protests are hardly surprising. Each country has a high unemployment rate. Each country has a high poverty rate. Each country has suffered from political stagnation – in Bahrain, for example, a single family has ruled for two centuries. Each country has little in the way of democracy. And in each country, young people make up a disproportionately large segment on the population. It is difficult to imagine a more potent equation for civil unrest than youth, poverty, unemployment, and repression.

In Tunisia and Egypt, largely non-violent protests stunned rulers, who in turn stunned the rest of the world in dramatic exits from power. In Yemen and Bahrain, protests have become deadly as entrenched regimes and dogged demonstrators fight in the streets. In Algeria, unrest simmers at a constant, brooding rate. In Libya, protests met with brutal repression. Protests became revolt; revolt became war, and now a multinational force is enforcing a UN mandate for a no fly zone in Libyan airspace.

And though these protests take place thousands of miles from the USA, they are not entirely foreign. American business, diplomatic, and military interests are inextricably intertwined with the fate of the Middle East. But beyond the political, there is the personal. Immigrants from Middle Eastern countries are watching the same news, witnessing the same triumphant moments and violent scenes.

We thought it important to collect economic, political, and demographic data we deemed pertinent to examining the Middle East uprisings and present it alongside statements from Middle Eastern New Yorkers. We chose the six countries you see here – Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Yemen – because protests there have been most vigorous and influential.

The data comes from the CIA World Factbook, the UN, multiple news outlets like Al Jazeera English and The New York Times, and the 2000 US Census.

The interviewees are all originally from the Middle East. They left their countries of origin for a variety of reasons, but did so as young adults, not as children. They are New Yorkers, with a deep love for this city and all it stands for, and they are also Libyans, Egyptians, Yemenis, Tunisians, Bahrainis, and Algerians.

They are our Middle Eastern neighbors.

Rasmus Raun Westh and Frans L.S. Koster

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