Nine months after the first buds of the so-called "Arab Spring" blossomed, the two countries that led the uprising – Egypt and Tunisia – are facing a painful economic reality. Tourism, one of the most significant sources of income, has collapsed. Several other sectors have failed to take off. Did anyone calculate the price for freedom?
Egypt's economy expanded a solid 5.1% in 2010. But so far this year, growth is just 1.2%, with the post-revolutionary slowdown expected to extend through 2012. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasts growth of just 1.8% for next year.
The situation in Tunisia is similar. Growth is expected to be at a standstill in 2011, but could bounce back next year – to 3.9%. The exception to the rule is Iraq, whose economy is rising from the ashes after being devastated by the drawn-out war. The IMF forecasts growth in Iraq at about 9.6% in 2011 and 12.6% in 2012.
What can countries involved in the Arab Spring do to get their economies on the right track? Leaders from Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere addressed that very question during a recent series of meetings of the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund in Washington.
During a seminar organized by the IMF entitled " Beyond the Arab Spring: Restoring Economic Confidence, Meeting Social Needs," Tunisian Finance Minister Ayed Jalloul noted just how far-reaching the challenge was. "As of now, the government is the country's main employer," he said. "It's high time people launched their own projects. It means that the government must act with the utmost transparency. Otherwise Tunisians could start doubting the fundamental values of democracy. "
Mr. Jalloul said measures are being taken to encourage entrepreneurship and help students once they leave university. In Tunisia, unemployment among recent graduates is roughly 40%. "A full 85% percent of Tunisia's industrial production comes from small and medium-sized companies. They are the ones we should be helping," he said.
Shaukat Tarin, advisor to the chairman of Silkbank Ltd. in Pakistan, deems it a priority for the governments of Arab countries to balance their budgets and to create the conditions for the private sector to supply both credit and capital risk insurance. "My country's main problem is its lack of financial assets," said Jalloul.
Will the U.S. keep its promises ?
Ahmed Galal, the Egyptian director of the Economic Research Forum in Giza, expressed serious concerns about the new government's ability to institute vast macroeconomic reforms. "Our transitional government lacks the legitimacy," he warned. "We are currently rewriting the Constitution. Our priority is to ensure fair political leadership that relies on institutions working within a check-and-balance system. "
Internationally speaking, countries in the West and Middle East have promised to help the Arab Spring countries with up to $38 billion in loans issued by international development banks. But it's hard to know if the banks will keep their promises.
As for the United States, President Barack Obama had given his word that he would forgive $1 billion off the Egyptian debt. A Senate commission has just adjusted this help downwards, limiting it to $500 million.
The U.S. Congress has become more hesitant when it comes to assisting countries that were affected by the Arab Spring, particularly because they fear American financial assistance could end up benefiting Islamist movements. President Obama seems to feel differently. Last month, he appointed a diplomat, William Taylor, to handle the aid destined for Arab countries.
Read the original article in French
Photo - Gigi Ibrahim