Economic Challenges and February 20th

Links to a couple of interesting articles. Prospect’s September issue has several pieces on the economic challenges after the Arab Spring, including Claire Spencer (Reform, Round Two) highlighting the unfinished business of the Spring revolutions themselves. Job creation and SME-building are the real challenges for countries with massive youth unemployment, and the economies of Egypt and Tunisia in particular are still distorted by lack of information, corruption, subsidies and carefully maintained choke-holds on strategically vital processes. Many of the same people and institutions who had them before the revolutions still have the choke-holds. All this makes translation of political into economic success highly problematic, perhaps impossible. “Removing market distortions and providing legal protection for businesses must be one of the most urgent, necessary reforms in the region. Indeed the creation of small and medium businesses has become the new mantra of reformed and less reform-minded governments alike, as they seek to provide jobs for their largely youthful and unemployed populations,” she writes. And she recognizes quite how little wiggle-room the non-petroleum states like Morocco and Jordan have, “… engineering economic change within modified, but not radically altered, political structures. With fewer hydrocarbon resources and high import bills for basic foodstuffs, these governments’ options for rapid and fundamental reform are limited. Instead they are engaged in a strategic juggling act to create new jobs, above all in the private sector, while seeking to maintain their overall control of the economy from the centre.”

On Morocco’s February 20th Movement, Ahmed Benchemsi (former editor of TelQuel magazine) has posted to his blog a long and very interesting account of the history of the ‘movement’ in which he examines its genesis, the place of pre-existing political forces in giving it shape, and its current failure to become a concerted political movement. He trails his account: “In truth, what happened in Morocco in 2011 was a war of position and speed involving underground activists, maverick political groups, and a subtly resilient royal administration. It was also a conflict of generations, pitting twenty-something wholehearted newcomers against old school, wily politicians. Finally, it was a case study of political tactics and stratagems—ones that made the national balance of powers shift twice in a year.” The piece is Benchemsi’s chapter, called Feb 20’s Rise and Fall, A Moroccan Story, in a forthcoming book, Taking To The Streets: Activism, Arab Uprisings, and Democratization, edited by Lina Khatib and Ellen Lust (Johns Hopkins University Press). The chapter itself is excellent; and the tail of comments afterwards, posted by readers, is an intriguing insight into Moroccan on-line debate, and worth a cultural commentary in its own right.

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