Flapping of Butterfly’s Wings turning into Arab Hurricane

March 15, 2011

By Yared Haile-Meskel

The last three months had thrown the proverbial spanner into the gears of the prediction and security industry. The political analysts, strategic planners, the intelligent officers,the 5 stars national security advisors as well as the fortune tellers failed to warn Ben Ali and Mubarak about the impending danger and the rest of us to bet on rising oil price. The masterminds behind prediction models, the strategic planners and the security officials who had been on fat salary to predict the future missed the big events of the North-Africa leaving their paymasters totally wrong-footed.

Of course, prediction is a risky business because it is often done by analysing the past to see the future; hoping that the past repeats itself through random walks or predictable order.

In 1972, MIT Professor, Edward Lorenz, showed how small event in one corner of the world could turn into large metrological phenomena  in  other part of the world in a paper entitled “Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil set off a Tornado in Texas? “

The flapping wings represent a small change in the initial condition of the system, which causes a chain of events leading to large-scale phenomena. The argument is, had the butterfly not flapped its wings, the trajectory of the system might have been vastly different making forecasting very difficult.

This is exactly what happened in Tunisia. When Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor, felt humiliated and insulted, went to the governor office around 10: 30 am on December 17, 2010 to ask for justice. The officials from the governor office refused to see him because an angry street vender wasn’t a person that could make a difference.  At 11:30 angry Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire, in protest of the harassment and humiliation that was inflicted on him by a municipal official and her aides.  As they say, the rest is history.

No one predicted the action of Bouazizi could detonate the anger buried in the hearts of millions of young Arabs across the Middle-East. This act became a trigger for the recent Arab Revolution threatening institutions that were supposedly built on solid granite, protected by armoured vehicles and security advisors.

Who in his right mind could have predicted that flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Tunisia could topple Mubarak and threatens all emerging dynasties in the Arab world, making their investment in their security apparatus totally worthless?

This supposedly small incident on December 17, 2010 changed the world whether many more regimes to fail or reform at breakneck speed. Now bank VAULTS ARE OPENED to shower ordinary citizens with petro-dollar, many are swearing in the name of heaven and earth that they would not pass power to their sons and some are even promising  to step down at the end of the their term.

At the same time, I suppose those old sophisticated prediction models, security apparatuses and strategy analysis have to delete their old models to start building a new one.  From the benefit of hindsight, it is obvious that the new model is surely going to take the feelings and angers of private citizens as its critical input.

The old assumption that power is easily sustained in the absence of organised political opposition and civic organisations may now become too simplistic.  Totally an unrelated event, a magnitude of flapping of a butterfly’s wings, could detonate the frustration of millions to make them move and act in unison without being a member of any organised party.

Again, from hindsight, one can argue that it was easier for Mubarak or Ben Ali to control, manage or negotiate with organised forces than to deal with the youth with no leaders and command structure.

Then one may rightly ask that if life is so unpredictable and a small event as flapping of the wings of a butterfly could turn into hurricane, what can be done?   Throw our arms in despair or kneel down and lit a candle at the nearest Cathedral?

The answer seems easy. It is simply to address the causes of frustration and bottled anger.  So the cost effective strategy is to release the excess pressure through public service and justice. If Mohammed Bouazizi were not left with his frustration,  he couldn’t have set himself on fire. If he were listened to and his complaint addressed, he would have gone home to look after for his family than setting himself on fire to make a point.

The best bet out of this danger is to invest in clearing out the surplus frustration from the hearts and minds of supposedly helpless ordinary citizens.  These bombs could be defused through respect for ordinary people, listening to their wishes, aspirations and cry for justice.

As the old proverb advices to listen to and respect the helpless, the widows and the orphans, governors too need to listen to the likes of street vendors. That needs no investment in prediction models apart from being a public servant than being a master.


2 comments on “Flapping of Butterfly’s Wings turning into Arab Hurricane

  1. I bet the event in Arab countries must have embarrased Birhanu Nega and his lieutenants who have been preaching peaceful struggle doesn’t work.

  2. a very concise and cogent appraisal of a situation that quite litterally erupted without prior warning albeit the disaffected youth of the Mahgreb region has been a simmering couldon for years

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