Global Crisis Blog 

Is the Arab “Spring” Headed for a Fall?  Why Political Democracy Needs Money

By Shlomo Maital

  A lot of romantic ink has been spilled on the Arab Spring, the incredible outpouring of popular democracy in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Libya and elsewhere, that has toppled or will topple despots, led by idealistic non-violent young people using social networks.  Here in Israel, there are deep fears that this process will destabilize the whole Mideast and lead to consequences no-one can predict.  But in general, over the long run, the culture of democracy, if it takes root in Arab nations, will be a far more fertile seedbed for peace than despotism and dictators, who use Israel as a distraction for the ruinous way they run their economies, or Islamic fundamentalism, which substitutes religious fanaticism for modern technology and progress. 

   However, there is reason for concern that the Arab Spring may be headed for a fall.  Speaking on BBC, a young Egyptian woman who helped lead the Tahrir Square uprising said forcefully, we do not want American money or interference of any kind.  I’m afraid she reflects general thinking of these young revolutionaries.  They do not understand that in order for political democracy to survive, it will have to be supported by large amounts of foreign investment, to create dynamic growing economies with jobs for educated young people.  Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Libya, Yemen, these countries cannot even begin to fund the huge infrastructure investments that they need. The World Bank has promised some aid, but it is hugely inadequate.  The G8 leaders meeting in Deauville, France, make promises, but they are usually empty and hollow. 

     The best-case scenario is that the new Arab political democracy will be supported by savvy businesspersons, who will find ways to attract foreign investment.  In Egypt this is unlikely, because the oligarch businesspersons were in bed with Mubarak and have been discredited.  In Yemen it is possible – the main opposition to Yemen’s dictator is its wealthiest businessman.  In Libya, Gaddafi has stowed away billions, which could be used to rebuild the country, but will the Libyan reformers manage to get their hands on them? 

     Somehow, the West must find a way to tell the young Arab revolutionaries that it is time to come down from the clouds, to earth, and find practical ways to build new modern economies.  This will take enormous amounts of money. Where will it come from?

   And by the way – don’t count on the oil-soaked Saudis, Qataris, Bahreinis and other oil-rich nations.  They’re too busy buying English Premier League teams and building useless skyscrapers and artificial islands.   Why would the rich Arab nations even think of investing their huge resources into building new lives for the poorer Arab nations?