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MIDDLE EAST/ Risks involved in the “double-standard” policies of the US and Europe

Georges Corm comments on the situations in North Africa and the Middle East, focusing on the economic problems, wealth distribution and the possibilities for democracy.

Clashes in Yemen   (photo ANSA) Clashes in Yemen (photo ANSA)

Some months after the beginning of the “Arab Spring” the spotlight of Western media has been turned off about the transformations in act in North Africa and the Middle East. From Libya to Yemen, by way of Egypt and Tunisia, there are many variables that can decide the future of these countries: wealth, war, oligarchies, transformations of the middle classes, and the new political parties. Ilsussidiario.net spoke with Georges Corm, a Lebanese jurist and economist, Professor at the Saint Joseph University of Beirut, about all of these things. According to Corm, one of the greatest risks comes from the new oligarchies who are attempting to monopolize power and to compromise the fragile evolution of democracy, as well as the grave responsibility of the “double standard” policies that inspire the US and Europe.

In a recent article, you wrote about a hot summer after the Arab Spring. In your opinion, how is the situation in the Arab countries evolving? And what are the differences between the various countries?

Indeed, it is unfortunately a very hot summer with violent situations of different degrees in some countries, Libya with a full civil war in which NATO members are involved, Yemen and Syria where there is a stalemate between a “revolutionary” camp and more conservative groups who do not approve of a full regime change. In Egypt, there is a growing impatience of young secular groups continuing to put pressure on the Military Council to accelerate the change. Muslim Brotherhood in this country seems clearly to shift to be at the center of conservative forces. Only the Tunisian political changes seem to progress in a more orderly way. But still, we will have to see the outcome of elections as well as the economic and social changes that are required.

To what extent are economic reasons at behind these events, besides the demand for more freedom and democracy?
I personally believe that poor and marginalized social groups that were a main component of the revolutionary movements every where are almost exclusively motivated by socio-economic reasons. If they share the middle class aspiration to freedom and the end of autocracy, their main aim is to attain a substantial improvement in their standard of living through more employment opportunities, more educational and social services offered by the State.

Economic development and a greater equity in the distribution of wealth are crucial for the stability of the Arab countries. Is this possible without aid from non-Arab countries? And how is it possible to avoid this aid becoming a political influence on the Arab countries?
I believe that we need to develop a new economic paradigm for the future of the Arab countries. Aid or emigrant remittances have been flowing in very large amounts during the last fifty years but did not succeed in creating diversified and dynamic Arab economies. These economies have been kept in a very low state of productive activities able to compete on globalized markets.

Wealth distribution is not unequal only in the single countries, but also between countries, and oil is the main differentiating factor. How can these differences be reduced and how can this wealth be put as a gear to set in motion the development of the whole area?