Unrest Driven by a Hunger for Jobs

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Byline: Brian Murphy Associated Press

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Just days before fleeing Tunisia, the embattled leader went on national television to promise 300,000 new jobs over two years.

Egypt's stunned President Hosni Mubarak did the same Saturday as riots gripped Cairo and other cities: offering more economic opportunities in a country where half the people live on less than $2 a day.

The pledges-under-siege have something else in common: an acknowledgment the unprecedented anger on Arab streets is at its core a long-brewing rage against decades of economic imbalances that rewarded political elite and left many others on the margins.

With startling speed -- less than two months since the first protests in Tunisia -- underscored the wobbly condition of the systems used by some Arab regimes to hold power since the 1980s or earlier. The once formidable mix of economic cronyism and hard-line policing -- which authorities sometime claim was needed to fight Islamic hard-liners or possible Israeli spies -- now appears under serious strain from societies pushing back.

Mubarak and other Arab leaders have only to look to Cairo's streets: a population of 18 million with about half under 30 years old and no longer content to have a modest civil servant job as their top aspiration. One protester in Cairo waved a hand-drawn copy of his university diploma amid clouds of tear gas and shouted what may best sum up the complexities of the domino-style unrest in a single word: Jobs.

"The regimes and the leaders are the ones under fire, but it's really about despair over the future," said Sami Alfaraj, director of the Kuwait Center for Strategic Studies. "The faces of this include the young man with a university degree who cannot find work or the mother who has trouble feeding her family."

The narrative of economic injustice has surrounded the protests from the beginning. …