Western and Arab media have understated the socio-economic factors behind the various mass uprisings in different Arab countries. Focus has been placed on demand for political freedom and the ousting of corrupted dictators. The demand for greater social justice and a different developmental model has been largely ignored in most cases. For Western media, it was only natural that values of political freedom which were part of the revolutionary slogans should be emphasized, on the consideration that such represents a virtuous Western influence that animated the Arab revolts against tyranny and the deprivation of human rights. For pan-Arab media largely owned and managed by Saudi wealth, joining the chorus of condemnations of corrupted dictators originating from the military establishment in various Arab republics was intended to make the monarchy be looked upon as a regime that cares for its people.

In fact, both Western and pan-Arab media avoided discussion in any depth of socioeconomic issues that caused the uprisings of large masses of people for whom poverty and marginalization prevent them aspiring to priority or individual political liberties and freedoms. These masses who emerged in huge numbers to demonstrate together with other more well-to-do social strata of the population were first and foremost motivated by the need to improve their socio-economic situation and gain access to decent employment opportunities.

For Western media and decision-makers emphasizing the political demand for democracy and human rights almost exclusively permitted escaping the discussion of the negative socio-economic effects of implementing neo-liberal economic prescriptions and recipes that Arab countries have been following over the last decades under the powerful influence of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), The World Bank and the European Union. IMF annual reports based on Article IV Consultation on Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Syria and other Arab countries have shown a significant degree of optimism and approval of progresses realized in these countries thanks to the drive for liberalization. These reports have emphasized a number of issues including:

(1) the improvement in fundamental macro-economic variables (inflation, budget deficit, balance of payment deficit); (2) the positive developments of local capital markets; (3) institutional modernization in terms of market liberalization (free trade, free flows of capital, central bank reform, privatization and the reduction of the size of the public sector); and (4) improvement in banking market performance.

Both IMF and World Bank reports on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region analysed the lack of productivity and economic diversification or the moderate gross domestic product (GDP) annual growth rates as being due exclusively to the need to deepen the neo-liberal reform drive. In their view, Arab states should increase labour ‘flexibility’ and should not adhere to overvalued currencies so that their exports might be more dynamic. Government-funded social protection networks should be rationalized to target exclusively the poorest strata of the population only and thereby reduce the burden of state subsidies and the percentage of budget deficit in relation to the GDP. The World Bank reports look favourably on encouraging more emigration as a way to reduce domestic unemployment. In general terms, the IMF, World Bank and European Union considered Arab governments on the whole to be successful reformers implementing their recommendations consistently if rather slowly. No one within the Western donor community would have anticipated that revolts would erupt in the Arab world due in large part to deteriorating socio-economic conditions, which were neither properly monitored nor addressed.

What was actually happening in terms of real economy in Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Syria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman was out of their respective fields of vision. In spite of many studies by Arab economists indicating the deteriorating living conditions in rural areas along with the development and proliferation of shanty towns in the outskirts and suburbs of Arab cities, and despite available data on the burgeoning unemployment crisis and brain drain detrimental to the productivity of the real economies, Western attention has remained focused exclusively on macroeconomic balances and liberalization drives according to neo-liberal ideology. In general, pan-Arab financial institutions such as the Arab Monetary Fund or the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development were not party to a markedly different attitude, except for their focus on rural poverty and on the widening trade gap in food products.

In fact, the recent economic history of the Arab world is one of an increasingly negative model of ‘bad growth’ to which few have yet paid attention which largely explains the vital socio-economic dimension of the Arab revolts. It is under this bad growth model that corruption has flourished and that unhealthy multifaceted links were created between the business establishment and the political establishment. Complete silence prevailed with regard to this phenomenon in the media as well as in academic research communities along with the technical reports of the international financial institutions (IFI), the European Union or the Arab IFI.

This paper will examine successively in the next section the components of this bad growth model and the subsequent section the way to transform bad growth into good growth.

Read full text here The socio-economic factors behind the Arab revolutions


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