Friday, December 14, 2012

The Arab Spring: powergames versus real change

Today the NY Times has an article (In Cairo Crisis, the Poor Find Dashed Hopes) about disappointment in Egypt about the course of the revolution. A few days ago there was a rather similar piece about Tunisia. I am not astonished.

Before the revolutions there was high economic growth (about 7%). There were many complaints about corruption, but those Arab countries had low inequality - at a level comparable to the more equal European countries. That is quite an accomplishment when you consider that poor countries usually have rather high inequality.

Sure, a lot of young people were unemployed. But anyone could see that a revolution would only make things worse. The inevitable instability was bound to lead to a fall in economic growth. And despite the complaints about corruption it was unlikely - given the low inequality - that there was much to gain with redistribution. Those people advocating their revolution with economic arguments were plainly deceiving their audience.

That Ben Ali in Tunisia gave up after a short time was not an indication that the region was ripe for revolution - as Obama so eagerly assumed. It meant just that as a man in his 80s he didn't have the stomach for a big political fight.

In fact the Arab Spring was harmful. Instead of a discussion about real issues it resulted in endless power fights with a prominent place for the curse of the Arab world - Islamist organisations sponsored by the oil sheikhs.

Those protests could have had real results for the poor people - when they had not resulted in regime change. In that case the discussion could have focused on real issues: corruption and economic liberalization. Now the politicians are too busy fighting each other and gathering power to be concerned with issues like corruption.

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