I wrote a post on January 13 that I think looks pretty good today:
Just think of all the banal, publicly available factual information that’s relevant to foreign policy and that most of us can’t rattle off the top of our heads. What’s the age structure of the population of Egypt? Is the Christian population growing faster or slower than average? Because of differential birth rates or differential emigration rates? Does Okun’s law hold up there like in Canada, or has it broken down like in the United States? But if you tried to write an article about this in the popular press, nobody would care. A scoop about a “secret report” on Egypt would, by contrast, be a kind of news even if it didn’t amount to much more than embassy gossip or slightly informed speculation.
That’s not to say that anyone would, could, or should have predicted political turmoil in Egypt. But your best bet at predicting these things would come from being very well-versed in the publicly available information. Know the demographics, know what the staple foodstuffs are, know what’s happening in the commodities markets, and you’ll have some lead on where political instability is likely to happen.