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Slowly But Surely—Looking beyond the winter of Arab Spring

Slowly But Surely—Looking beyond the winter of Arab Spring

The real Arab Spring will arrive but we have to go through at least one bout of winter, economist and author Dr Marwan Iskandar tells Atique Naqvi.

August 23, 2011 3:36 by

How do you view the potential inclusion of Morocco and Jordan into the GCC?

It is actually a counter Arab spring move. But all of this will not materialise. During the Iraq-Kuwait war, Morocco sent soldiers who fought against Iraq.

Although Jordan wanted to participate, it could due to a large number of Palestinians, who live in Jordan and sympathised with Saddam Hussein. Now Jordan and Morocco are considered the countries that would send their soldiers to Arabian Gulf nations, if a need arises. However, I’ll reiterate that this whole idea of inclusion is meaningless. Besides a large distance between Morocco and the Gulf, the countries in North Africa are very different from the oil-rich GCC nations.

The Arab Spring is likely to bring opportunities to this region. What would be the challenges?

One of the obvious risks is the chaos in settling the legal issues. When some ministers are accused of embezzlement and it is not proved in court and as a result they are not put in jail, there would be question marks on the reliability of the new system. When accusations are made against some of the ministers or officials of the former regimes, there is a possibility of those charges being the result of personal grudges. So there might be a corruption in dealing with the corruption of the previous regime. A lot needs to be done to attract tourists to Egypt and Tunisia.

What would be your suggestion to the new governments to improve economies?

First and foremost they should establish security that includes security of individuals and property, freedom of practicing religion. Once you have achieved stable security, there are several drivers of growth including a huge population, especially in Egypt. The economic fundamentals are strong and investments from abroad are trickling in, but there is a dire need to weed out corruption. I think Arab societies will have to go through another winter to reap the fruits of a real Arab Spring.

What are your views on promises of aid to countries such as Egypt?

I don’t think they are empty promises, because bodies such as IMF and World Bank are involved and countries such as Germany and America are taking the lead. But one should keep in mind that help will not be there tomorrow. In the next few weeks, we will see a cash injection into Egyptian economy, but the rest of the aid will take time to materialise. I think time is needed to put a mechanism in place that will draw maximum benefit from the aid coming from Europe, America and Gulf Arab nations.

Do you think this wave of change would sway other nations in this region?

It is very difficult to judge the future by present actions. We have seen calls for reforms and democracy and those voices are not easy to suffocate.

It is not conceivable that these societies would revert back to their previous practices. However, we will have to wait for a time when governments in this region would work with more openness and transparency.

This article was originally published in Trends, July/August 2011.

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