Jan 22nd 2014

Arab Prospects Beyond the Arab Spring

by Tarek Osman

Tarek Osman is the author of Egypt on the Brink.
CAIRO – In December 2013, at a makeshift cultural center in downtown Cairo, a young Sudanese recited poems from The Papers of Room No. Eight, a collection written by the Egyptian poet Amal Donkol weeks before his death in 1983. He finished his recitation with the poignant “Do not dream of a happy world”; tears sparkled in the eyes of the elderly woman next to me. It was a fitting reflection on current conditions in the Arab world nearly three years after the start of what came to be known as the “Arab Spring.”

Two-thirds of the 330 million Arabs alive today are under 35 years old. But almost all Arab educational systems do not, in general, produce graduates who are competitive in the global job market. This means that the jobs that have any wealth-creation potential are beyond their reach. The exclusion of a significant percentage of Arab women from the labor force exacerbates the problem.

For example, though the Gulf states have a very young native population, their economies are fueled mainly by the expatriates who constitute more than 30% of the region’s inhabitants (estimates vary widely). Meanwhile, the proportion of Arab Christians throughout the Middle East has dwindled from around 20% of the total population to about 5% over the last century. As a result, for the first time in at least two centuries, Arab societies are increasingly losing their cultural and intellectual diversity. If these trends continue, the Arab world’s demographic dividend will become a catastrophic burden.

Most Arab oil producers are major credit exporters to the West, and several Gulf states’ sovereign wealth funds are among the most dynamic – and influential – actors in global capital markets. And yet the Arab world remains almost entirely dependent on oil exports, with even countries that have no reserves relying on fiscal support and remittances from the oil exporters.

As a result, though several Arab economies are growing at 3-5% per year, they are highly vulnerable to disruptive technologies (witness the shale-energy revolution) and economic shocks (for example, recessions in the main oil importers). And, crucially, dependence on oil means that the single source of Arab economic strength is a mature industry that is detached from those that will shape tomorrow’s global economy: bio-engineering, robotics, computer science, molecular physics, and manipulation of “big data,” to name a few.

Arab soft power is a mixed bag. The Qatari-based broadcaster Al Jazeera has managed to become a leading force in international media. Moroccan and Tunisian films regularly feature in international festivals. And Dubai is now a commercial and logistical hub, as well as a notable tourist destination.

But the Arab world’s contribution to international literary, cinematic, theatrical, and musical production is highly disproportionate to its population. The region is also severely deficient in scientific and technological research. And the region’s value system – its attitudes toward human rights, gender equality, and the role of religion in political and social life – is hardly a model for others to admire and emulate.

Moreover, the Arab world’s internal and external relationships are increasingly complicated. The largest Arab countries – Egypt and Saudi Arabia – have strained relations with the region’s largest immediate neighbors, Iran and Turkey. A permanent solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains elusive. Access to key water resources is fraught. Even the strategic relationship with the United States, which has anchored the largest Arab countries’ foreign policy for decades, is confronting significant challenges, owing to the political tremors triggered by the Arab Spring, as well as to America’s increasing focus on Asia.

Militarily, the Arab world lacks advanced capabilities in ballistic missiles, anti-satellite missiles, and cyber-warfare. This, together with a relatively low level of soft power, suggests that the Arab world’s ability to convince, compel, or coerce external actors is severely limited.

Arab elites are also increasingly losing influence over their internal constituencies, with most Arab countries remaining acutely divided over politics, economics, and the role of religion. The resulting polarization has weakened the few functioning state institutions that the large Arab countries have managed to build since the mid-nineteenth century.

Of course, pessimism in the short to medium term must be tempered by sensitivity to constantly changing political and social circumstances. But, while the Arab world is a huge region with real power and potential, it has been systematically weakened in the past half-century – mainly from within.

Indeed, the Arab uprisings of the past three years can be viewed as a youth-led rebellion against not only entrenched elites, but also against a social and political narrative that is no longer viable. A new start is urgently needed.

To be sure, the past three years have been full of disappointments. But, for today’s young Arabs, there can be no restoration of faith in the old certainties and dogmas that have stifled social and political progress for decades. Millions of Arabs have opted out, with some of the brightest emigrating to the US and northern Europe, while some of the poorest risk their lives to cross the Mediterranean. Nonetheless, the transformative wave fueled by young people’s frustration remains full of energy and potential.

If, however, the wave peters out and current conditions persist, Arab prospects will remain dismal for years to come. In that case, Arabs will understand that it really is wrong to dream of a better world – with perilous consequences for the region and its neighbors.


Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2014.
www.project-syndicate.org


 


This article is brought to you by Project Syndicate that is a not for profit organization.

Project Syndicate brings original, engaging, and thought-provoking commentaries by esteemed leaders and thinkers from around the world to readers everywhere. By offering incisive perspectives on our changing world from those who are shaping its economics, politics, science, and culture, Project Syndicate has created an unrivalled venue for informed public debate. Please see: www.project-syndicate.org.

Should you want to support Project Syndicate you can do it by using the PayPal icon below. Your donation is paid to Project Syndicate in full after PayPal has deducted its transaction fee. Facts & Arts neither receives information about your donation nor a commission.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

May 27th 2022
EXTRACTS: "Monetary policymakers are talking tough nowadays about fighting inflation to head off the risk of it spinning out of control. But that doesn’t mean they won’t eventually wimp out and allow the inflation rate to rise above target. Since hitting the target most likely requires a hard landing, they could end up raising rates and then getting cold feet once that scenario becomes more likely. Moreover, because there is so much private and public debt in the system (348% of GDP globally), interest-rate hikes could trigger a further sharp downturn in bond, stock, and credit markets, giving central banks yet another reason to backpedal." ----- "The historical evidence shows that a soft landing is highly improbable. That leaves either a hard landing and a return to lower inflation, or a stagflationary scenario. Either way, a recession in the next two years is likely."
May 26th 2022
EXTRACT: "No, I am not arguing that Powell needs to replicate Volcker’s tightening campaign. But if the Fed wishes to avoid a replay of the stagflation of the late 1970s and early 1980s, it needs to recognize the extraordinary gulf between Volcker’s 4.4% real interest rate and Powell’s -2.25%. It is delusional to believe that such a wildly accommodative policy trajectory can solve America’s worst inflation problem in a generation."
May 26th 2022
EXTRACT: "It will be critical in this context how China will act and whether it will prioritise its economic interests (continuing trade with Europe and the US) or current ideological preferences (an alliance with Russia that makes the world safe for autocracies)."
May 26th 2022
EXTRACT: "The document is full of embarrassing and damming stories of illegal gatherings and bad behaviour. There was “excessive alcohol consumption”, a regular fixture referred to as “wine time Fridays” and altercations between staff. Aides are shown to have left Downing Street after 4am (and not because they had worked into these early hours). Cleaning staff and junior aides were abused, and a Number 10 adviser is on record before the infamous “bring your own booze” party...."
May 17th 2022
EXTRACT: "But even a resounding Russian defeat is an ominous scenario. Yes, under such circumstances – and only such circumstances – Putin might be toppled in some kind of coup led by elements of Russia’s security apparatus. But the chances that this would produce a liberal democratic Russia that abandons Putin’s grand strategic designs are slim. More likely, Russia would be a rogue nuclear superpower ruled by military coup-makers with revanchist impulses. Germany after World War I comes to mind."
May 8th 2022
EXTRACT: "For citizens of states that are members of NATO, taking all possible steps, short of all-out war, to ensure that Russia does not conquer Ukraine is not even an altruistic sacrifice. It is a long-term investment, for themselves and their children, in freedom, democracy, and the international rule of law."
May 4th 2022
EXTRACT: ".....a remarkable transformation is taking place in Ukraine’s army amounting to its de facto military integration into Nato. As western equipment filters through to the frontline, Nato-standard weaponry and ammunition will be brought into Ukrainian service. This is of far higher quality than the mainly former Soviet weapons with which the Ukrainians have fought so capably. The longer this process continues and deepens, the worse the situation will be for the already inefficient Russian army and air force."
May 3rd 2022
EXTRACT: " The conventional wisdom among students of the Russian arts and sciences is that Russian culture is “great.” The problem is that, while there are surely great individuals within Russian culture, the culture as a whole cannot avoid responsibility for Putin and his regime’s crimes." ---- "Russianists will not be able to avoid examining themselves and their Russian cultural icons for harbingers of the present catastrophe. What does it mean that Fyodor Dostoevsky was a Russian chauvinist? That Nikolai Gogol and Anton Chekhov were Ukrainian? That Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was an unvarnished imperialist? That Aleksandr Pushkin was a troubadour of Russian imperial greatness? May these writers still be read without one eye on the ongoing atrocities in Ukraine?"
Apr 29th 2022
EXTRACT: "The following day Lavrov met his Eritrean counterpart, Osman Saleh, in Moscow. Eritrea was the only African country to vote against the UN resolution condemning the invasion. In this refusal to condemn Russia, Eritrea was joined by only Belarus, North Korea and Syria. Even longstanding allies such as Cuba and China abstained. It’s an indication of Russia’s increasingly limited diplomatic options as this war continues."
Apr 24th 2022
EXTRACT: "Although the milestone lasted only for a brief time, it points to a future in which California runs on 100% wind, solar, hydro and batteries, a future that will certainly arrive even faster than the state plans. As it is, California is ahead of its green energy goals." ...... "A world of 100% green energy and electric cars is not only a healthier and more comfortable world, it is a world where oil and gas dictators like Vladimir Putin are defunded."
Apr 17th 2022
EXTRACT: "Kazakhstan’s authorities have also showed uncharacteristic leniency in allowing public rallies in support of Ukraine. Thousands of protesters holding banners reading “Russians, leave Ukraine”, “Long Live Ukraine” and “Bring Putin to trial” marched across the capital, Almaty, wrapping monuments to Lenin and other Soviet-era figures with yellow and blue balloons symbolising the Ukrainian flag."
Apr 15th 2022
EXTRACT: "People’s identification with the Soviet Union appears to have a clear and growing basis in Russian public opinion. Surveys we have conducted throughout the Putin period show that Soviet identification among the general population – something that had been steadily declining after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 – began to increase in 2014, when the Russian government annexed Crimea and supported rebellions in the Ukrainian regions of Luhansk and Donetsk. By 2021, almost 50% of those surveyed identified with the Soviet Union rather than the Russian Federation."
Apr 13th 2022
EXTRACT: "Worse yet, the Hungarian government has effectively been helping Putin by prohibiting the shipment of weapons to Ukraine across its borders. Hungarian public TV spreads Russian disinformation day and night. The day before the election, an assembly of ordinary people expressing solidarity with Ukraine was framed on state television as a “pro-war rally.” "
Apr 13th 2022
EXTRACT: "It may well be that the Russian army’s fate has already been sealed in what is likely to be a long war. The single qualification to this may be that Russia could default to escalation using “weapons of mass destruction” of one form or another – whether tactical nuclear warheads or chemical weapons."
Apr 13th 2022
EXTRACTS" "Ukraine and Russia produce a substantial amount of grain and other food for export. Ukraine alone produces a whopping 6% of all food calories traded in the international market. At least it used to, before it was invaded by the world’s largest nuclear power." ...... "When it comes to cereals like wheat, corn, rice and barley, the big players talk about millions of metric tonnes, or MMTs. A single MMT of wheat contains about 3.4 trillion food calories,." ....."Ukraine produced about 80 MMT of grain (a category that includes wheat, corn and barley) in 2021, and is expected to harvest less than half of that this year. A shortfall of 40 MMT is enough missing calories that a country like the UK could only make it up by having everyone stop eating for three years. That’s the thing about tonnes of grain: a million here and a million there and pretty soon you’ve got a real issue on your plate."
Apr 11th 2022
EXTRACT: "I don’t even know the little girl’s name. All I do know is what a friend of a friend wrote on Viber: that her relative, a senior nurse in one of Kyiv’s hospitals, “saw in the morgue a child with 20 varieties of sperm on her small body.” Since this information was conveyed in a private conversation, there is no reason to doubt its veracity."
Apr 8th 2022
EXTRACT: "Russian society has so far failed to stop Putin, just as German society failed to stop Hitler. And so, like a poisoned chalice, that task has fallen to the West, as it did in 1939. The West must now treat Putin and his regime the same way that Winston Churchill treated Hitler: Don’t talk to him, just defeat him. Dead-enders such as Putin are too fanatical and desperate to be reliable negotiating partners."
Apr 3rd 2022
EXTRACT: "From 1807 to 1814 on the Iberian peninsula, Napoleon had to fight Spanish, Portuguese and British armies while beset by ubiquitous, ferocious insurgents. He described this war as his “bleeding ulcer”, draining him of men and equipment. It is the west’s aim to make Ukraine for Putin what Spain was for Napoleon. In the absence of a negotiated settlement, Ukraine and Nato will continue to grind away at Russia’s army, digging away at that bleeding ulcer and prolonging Russia’s agony on the military front, as the west continues its parallel assault on its economy. If Putin’s plan is to proceed with the Korea model, he will fail. There is a strong possibility that Putin has only a limited idea of how badly his army is faring. So be it – he’ll find out soon enough that there is now no path for him to military victory."
Apr 1st 2022
EXTRACTS: "Policymakers expected that the country would be able to secure its energy supply entirely from renewable sources, so they resolved to phase out coal and nuclear energy simultaneously. The last three of Germany’s 17 nuclear power plants are set to be shut down this year." ---- ".... the share of wind and solar power in Germany’s total final energy consumption, which includes heating, industrial processing, and traffic, was a meager 6.7%. And while wind and solar generated 29% of the country’s electricity output, electricity itself accounted for only about a fifth of its final energy consumption." ----- "If Germany suddenly halted Russian gas imports, gas-based residential heating systems – on which half the German population, approximately 40 million people, rely – and industrial processes that rely heavily on gas imports would break down....."
Apr 1st 2022
EXTRACT: "For Putin, the past that matters most is the one the dissident author and Nobel laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn exalted: the time when the Slavic peoples were united within the Orthodox Christian kingdom of Kievan Rus’. Kyiv formed its heart, making Ukraine central to Putin’s pan-Slavic vision. ---- But, for Putin, the Ukraine war is about preserving Russia, not just expanding it. As Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently made clear, Russia’s leaders believe that their country is locked in a “life-and-death battle to exist on the world’s geopolitical map.” That worldview reflects Putin’s longstanding obsession with works of other Russian emigrant philosophers, such as Ivan Ilyin and Nikolai Berdyaev, who described a struggle for the Eurasian (Russian) soul against the Atlanticists (the West) who would destroy it. ---- Yet Putin and his neo-Eurasianists seem to believe that the key to victory is to create the kind of regime those anti-Bolshevik philosophers most detested: one run by the security forces. A police state would fulfill the vision of another of Putin’s heroes: the KGB chief turned Soviet General Secretary Yuri Andropov."