Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The Economy’s the Thing | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Egyptian protesters hold bread along with a flyer reading in Arabic “Danger, no to loans that lead to poverty” during a rally in downtown Cairo against the visit of a delegation from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on April 3, 2013. (AFP PHOTO/ KHALED DESOUKI)

Can there still be talk of harmony between the Arab Spring states after all this time? Is it not enough to contemplate the rise of new political powers under the leadership of the international Muslim Brotherhood organization, particularly as this has all been welcomed by the US?

It has often been said that the transformations that the Arab Spring states are still in the grip of are disproportionate to the extent of the destruction that has been inflicted on state infrastructure. This is because the emergence of these new parties did not reflect the outward nature and shape of the state; rather, it only served to return the political situation in these countries to the pre-republic era.

It is not true to say that the growing role of political Islam and the retreat of civil powers is the sole reason behind the destruction and devastation being experienced by these states, even if political Islam has served as political cover for this. Rather, we can say that the economic performance of the new players, their feeble political capabilities, and their reliance on their grassroots popularity have pushed them into this quandary. They are now facing a number of critical issues, most prominently the economy, which is the most serious and delicate issue that the ruling parties in the Arab states must confront today.

On the international scene, Arab Spring states are facing tremendous pressure to be more compliant with international treaties, Western interests and human rights obligations. However, this is ultimately nothing more than window dressing and is not being fulfilled on the ground due to a lack of consensus among the various political sides.

Many supporters of freedom seem to be negligent when discussing the economy, wasting time by trying to rectify the ruling regime’s political course when they should be paying more attention to the economy. These regimes seem to always adopt a form of political Islam, which by its very nature is a concept that is antagonistic towards political pluralism. This only serves to create crisis after crisis due to the outlook of these political Islamist leaders and the discrepancy between their values and principles and the political framework that the international community is pressuring them to adopt as a precondition to international aid and cooperation.

All such efforts are nothing more than a waste of time, particularly if we consider the fact that Arab Spring governments have a relatively short lifespan before they face the ballot box, particularly as these will rarely be to the advantage of the ruling political powers. This is because the ruling parties will inevitably perform worse than expected in the political sphere, not to mention their economic failures.

The US and the EU seemingly lack the vision to handle the Arab Spring states in the ideal manner. This is a vision that should focus on improving the economic climate in these countries by supporting their private sectors in order to ensure more job opportunities, in addition to offering legal and reconstructional aid and expertise. This would be much better than the US and EU merely contenting themselves with watching the disaster play out in the Arab Spring countries, or at best offering support to the ruling regimes under the pretext that they were democratically elected.

The paradox is that the economic challenges being faced by Arab Spring states long preceded the revolutions. The major political transformations that have taken place in these states have failed to push through any useful economic changes. In fact, the economic situations in these countries have deteriorated even further following the revolution in terms of unemployment, investment and economic growth.

The political stagnation in the Arab Spring states is a direct result of the stumbling economic conditions, rather than political conflict. The ongoing economic deterioration will lead to escalating economic crises that will have dangerous long-term effects even if the political players are removed or replaced. The lower classes are more affected by inflation and lack of economic growth than the issue of political freedom. If we look back at the situation just prior to the Arab Spring, it is clear that these so-called autocratic regimes were at least able to maintain their economic gains, even if they failed to address issues such as corruption and political reform.

The real crisis is that the political crises being experienced by these countries only serve to repel foreign investors, who can by no means trust a political regime that has no respect for the judiciary and which lacks an effective and strong parliamentary system. Hence, political solutions do not necessarily mean economic reform, while addressing economic crises will certainly contribute to creating a climate suitable for political reform based on harmony and partnership rather than political domination.

What is even more striking is that the economic ideology of political Islam is one that lends itself to capitalism. For example, Egypt’s Freedom and Justice Party, despite its modest programs and mechanisms of implementation, is a strong advocate of private ownership and the private sector, extoling the free market economy and foreign investment.

The Tahrir Square youth chanted, “Bread, freedom, and social justice!” However, there is not enough bread today, and freedom has been replaced by political bickering and the dismantling of the state’s structures. As for social justice, it is missing and will not return until our economies stop collapsing: the economy’s the thing.