The Arab Spring – Part 2

The signs for fresh green growth as a consequence of the much vaunted Arab Spring are slow in arriving.
In Egypt, the economy already battered by the revolution may have lost 1.7 billion $US according to Egypt’s Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics , loss of export earnings and as a direct hit on the loss of investment and the damage done to tourism but far more serious has been the bleeding of local capital.
The continued unemployment rate has worsened, aggravated by the forced return of one million migrant workers fleeing the violence in Libya. According to the Al Harat news agency, in the first 3 months of the year an estimated $US30 billion taken out of Egypt -about one third of the foreign reserves. Those responsible have been in part the nervous businessmen anxious to avoid what they see as likely prospects for downturn in the economy. That the Egyptian stock market is now trading at about 25% lower than the situation before the revolution suggests their worries were justified. It should also be remembered that the immediate triggers for the revolution of rising food prices, high unemployment for the young and a government seen as out of touch with the disenchanted remain as unresolved problems.
While it is true that the US promise to safeguard US business interests to the tune of $US2 billion dollars will undoubtedly help a little but this is unlikely to make a significant difference to the underlying problem.
Elsewhere in the other so called Arab Spring territories, the signs are also negative. Lebanon, Tunisia, Syria, and Yemen join Egypt in going from an average annual growthg of 4.4.% into negative territory with Yemen and Libya apparently having the worst prospects.

We might also do well to remember that the countries in the Middle East are dependent on one another (and the good will of the large producing nations) for food and water security.  Instablibity in the key countries through which the water ways like the Nile flow, is bad news for those in parched territory particularly when it is remembered that the world surveys of water resources typically  rate as ‘extreme risk,’ with countries in the Middle East and North African (MENA) nations as being most at risk.  One survey I read recently (“The Water Stress Index”: produced by Maplecroft) placed the following in order as being most vulnerable: Bahrain (1), Qatar (2), Kuwait (3) Saudi Arabia (4) Libya (5), the disputed territory of Western Sahara (6), Yemen (7), Israel (8), Djibouti (9) and Jordan (10) topping the ranking.   Similarly food  where much of the food comes from outside the country is dependent on political stability and economic good heath for continued supply.   The Arab Spring may well be helping the voice of the people be heard, but only the wealthy and secure can afford the luxury of placing democracy ahead of the means to live. Looking further afield, the free market may be highly valued by the wealthy exporters of food but the lack of control mechanisms on the current highly volatile world food prices is a huge price to pay in terms of what happens to food supply for the vulnerable.
As predicted in my first post at the beginning of the Arab Spring, post revolution euphoria is clearly premature. While it is true that some of the Governments in the region have started to take more notice of the voice of the people, it is far from clear that the first signs of growth show sign of promise.

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4 Responses to The Arab Spring – Part 2

  1. dave says:

    The problem with any major political change is there can be incremental changes due to the popular discontent and it is not possible to predict when they accumulate enough to cause a big change.

    Perhaps the fall of Russian communist control of Eastern Europe might be similar to how American capitalist control of the Middle East falls apart, at least to the extent where small changes in a few places eventually lead to big changes in more places.

    Here is a timeline for Eastern Europe:

    1956, June: protests in Proznan, Poland.
    1956, October: Hungarian Revolution.
    1968, August: Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia.
    1977, January: Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia.
    1980, August: Gdansk Agreement in Poland.
    1987, June: Gorbachev’s Glasnost and Perestroika.
    1989, June: elections in Poland.
    1989, October: government changes in Poland and East Germany.
    1989, November: many peaceful revolutions in Eastern Europe.
    1989, December: Romanian Revolution.

    Arab Spring has seen an uprising in many places in a rather short period of time. We have not yet seen what changes in political structures will result. For much of the past century, American foreign policy has been marked by successfully managing small foreign governments (like in Latin American and the Middle East) to make sure they do what we want for our interests, regardless of whether that is good for the people in that country.

    As far back as 1939, FDR supposedly remarked that either Somoza or Trujillo (there is some debate about who was the subject) was ‘our dictator’ and subsequent American presidents have supported many ruthless dictators to the detriment of the people in their countries.

    For many years, Mubarak was our dictator.

    Since no democratic institutions exist in many of these Middle Eastern countries, it might take time for them to evolve, unfortunately subject to outside interference. When the governments and their economies fell in Eastern Europe, there was an opportunity for true social change, where the old businesses could have transitioned to be employee owned. Unfortunately, those in powerful positions were able to maintain control so the scope of the economic changes after the political upheaval were less than optimimal for the populace.

    One problem with the Arab Spring is the difficulty determining whether all unrest is truly internal. The American government has a history of intervention in the region but no one will admit the extent some actions are due to foreign services, like the appalling story of Raymond Davis in Pakistan.

    So far, as observed in the above essay, conditions through the Middle East turmoil are not noticeably improving for the majority of people. It will be interesting to see the extent foreign countries influence the developments in the respective countries of the Middle East.

    The book Shock Doctrine chronicled how major political change (like an overthrow of a dictator to a democracy) often leaves a burden on the new country, because American foreign policy has never been about the interests of the local people.

  2. peddiebill says:

    I take the point about the unnoticed and unseen background factors accumulating to the point where change happens. In some ways this reminds me of catastrophe theory which was a major model a few years ago for the social scientists.
    It also may be that we often make the mistake of assuming that Churchill’s lines drawn in the sand to delineate the dimensions of the countries in the Middle East, accurately reflect areas of interest and control. If foreign countries were able to see past these artificial boundaries to entities like the Shia Crescent and Kurdistan they might not be caught so often with unintended consequences.
    Although I never fail to be amazed at how often the US appears to blunder into these situations with poorly disguised attempts to hide what seems to be blatant interference in other nations’ affairs, and then often seems bewildered when it all turns pear shaped, in reality Washington is probably less free in such matters than we might hope. As long as the gigantic US economy is dependent on foreign oil and favourable trade – and as long as the resulting policies attract genuine enemies, what we often interpret as beligerent proaction may well be helpless reaction.

  3. dave says:

    I disagree with the vagueness in the trailing statements. America has a huge military that can be efficient at destroying and killing. The current policies, especially when they consistently start with military action, create (not attract) genuine enemies. Lately what is sold as premptive action is more a case of short-sighted inept displaced aggression. The military action is never accompanied by diplomacy, unless the diplomacy is the political term used for what amounts to coercion.

    America stopped using diplomacy quite a few years ago, instead relying on its military to push for change to its liking. From the bombings in Serbia under Clinton, to the Bush invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, to the Obama aggressions in Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, and Libya, America is behaving more like a bully than someone seeking peace since actions speak louder than words. To expect such persistent belligerence will continue to be met by a subdued, passive response is not rational. I have difficulty grasping anything as a ‘helpless reaction’ given the previous actions.

    Notice all these countries being attacked recently have a substantial Islam presence. Since we continue to support Israel whenever it persecutes the Palestinians in Gaza or in the West Bank, or when it has attacked/invaded Lebanon in recent years, this disturbing foreign policy must influence whatever is the eventual outcome of the Arab Spring.

  4. peddiebill says:

    Unfortunately there is truth in what you say. I think on reflection that I was trying a little too hard to excuse what may well be inexcusable.The trouble is that it is much easier to start wars than stop them.
    A couple of weeks ago I was talking to a young woman who had served in Iraq for a while after the US had moved in – and she told me that as far as she could see everyone involved at her level could see the impending problems. It was the decision makers who apparently couldnt see what she considered was blindingly obvious to everyone else.

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