While political scientists rush to give predictions on the effects of the Arab Revolution on the future of the region, and sociologists determine the most effective ways for the revolutionaries to deal with their newfound freedom, economists have now jumped on board with their calculations, equations and cost analyses of the recent developments.
According to a statistical analysis of IMF data by consultancy group Geopolicity, Libya, Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain and Yemen have all been hit hard economically by the recent turmoil. Costs to their combined GDP were valued at around $20.5 billion and costs to public finance totaled $35.2 billion. This, the report noted, did not take into account losses to infrastructure damage, business and foreign direct investment losses and human life.
By now, we realize all too well that freedom is invaluable and the sacrifices that people are ready to make for their dignity, no matter how long it takes to make them, cannot be quantified. Yet it isn’t for nothing that a Latin wise man cautioned us to primum vivere, deinde philosophare, first one must live, then one may philosophize. One cannot but ask, therefore, what these staggering figures mean and how these losses will affect the average Arab individual who caused this economic disaster?
Simply put, although economic prosperity was not an illusion in these countries, it certainly failed to spread beyond the main urban centers and permeate the general population. For what was this economic growth for the Bouazizi’s of Tunisia or the unemployed in Yemen? And what were public revenues for the homeless in Cairo or the poor of Damascus who only heard of such revenues as a function of increasing the wealth of those already in power.
The sometimes deceptive nature of these figures is not unique to the Arab world. But in an environment where economic improvement started feeling more like a dream, political and social liberties remained a dream, and rampant corruption was everything but a dream, how many times could this lethal mix be stopped from igniting?
Drawing the line between what indeed started as calls for economic reform, and what later became unequivocal political and social demands becomes impossible. Why would the Arab street retract and back down when they had nothing to lose?
The Occupy Wall Street phenomena has proven that political and social liberties cannot ensure stability in face of economic imbalances, brought about by the savage capitalism eroding the very values of a democracy. Chinese official reaction to the developments in the Arab world has also proven that economic freedom, verging on extreme capitalism itself, will also not be able to appease populations longing for political and social liberties. But why go to the other end of the world, when we have examples in our own backyard, including the Gulf countries and Saudi Arabia, who have also tried to appease their populations with generous economic benefits they only hope will dilute calls for deep-seated political and social reform.
As the new regimes pick up the pieces of their shattered past and start moving on with brighter hopes for the years ahead, the biggest challenge they inherited from their predecessors remains the delicate act of juggling both political and economic reform. The thirst for change hasn’t run dry and people still seem willing to sacrifice if newcomers fail…