Youth protests in Tunisia and Algeria have led to a number of deaths in recent days. According to Rainer Sollich, rising prices are only partly to blame: neither country is offering their citizens realistic prospects.
Many Europeans still associate Algeria with violence and instability - and Tunisia with cheap package holidays under the palm trees.
But this distinction is highly misleading and hides a decisive similarity: in both of these North African countries the stability of the regimes is being fundamentally challenged by angry protests by its citizens.
The situation is explosive in the truest sense of the word. It's not just a few crazed fundamentalists who are taking to the streets - but angry members of the population, mainly young people under 35 years of age. In both countries people have died in the protests, and in both countries the security forces appear to be out of their depth - the situation could escalate.
The issue isn't just about the sharply rising cost of food. It's about the lack of jobs, even for well-qualified academics; it's about corruption, a failed economic policy - indeed, it's about the lack of hope for a whole generation. And therefore it's a protest against two systems that can no longer deliver any realistic life prospects to their citizens.
Algerian and Tunisian regimes are clueless: Sollich
In Algeria there is understandable anger that the rich resources in the country still have not filtered down to the rest of the population. Tunisia has imposed huge restrictions on the freedom of its citizens for decades, as well as attempting to censor the media.
Regimes with no ideas
Despite that the protests have found a platform in online social networks. They appear to have taken hold in both countries, and could incite protest movements in other countries in the region.
The regimes of the two aging presidents, Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia, are totally clueless as to how to handle this situation. They are relying simply on hackneyed appeals, and on their security apparatus.
As its much richer neighbor, Europe is more than indirectly affected by the pressing social problems in the Maghreb. Therefore it is surprising that Europe has hardly commented on the situation.
It's no secret that many of the dissatisfied young people in Algeria and Tunisia would rather emigrate to France or Germany given half the chance. The pressure is increasing, both within the Maghreb and in the direction of Europe. However, the European Union can't just deal with the problem by erecting taller and taller fences.
Author: Rainer Sollich/jli
Editor: Martin Kuebler