Henry Kissinger, the famous American political scientist was once quoted, “You cannot make war in the Middle East without Egypt and you cannot make peace without Syria.” This was true 50 years before and this perhaps is as equally true today. Irrespective of that, it is equally valid to argue that the Arab economy as a whole cannot survive if the economies of Egypt and Syria collapse.
Arab nations, which have been ruled by monarchs for centuries, have seen long awaited democratic revolutions of late. Thus, nations like Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen have succeeded in overthrowing dictators like Zainal Abedine, Hosni Mubarak and Ali Abdallah Saleh. However, the challenges are not over. The severe political unrest that most of these Arab nations have gone through including Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Jordan, Yemen and Syria are the very reasons they are projected to suffer a sever economic downfall.
A report published in May, 2011, by the Institute of International Finance (IIF) global banks group (consisting of 430 banks and financial institutions) forecasted that the economies of Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Syria and Tunisia will shrink by 0.5% together in 2011 in contrast to the 4.4% growth they achieved in 2010. The African Central Bank, too, has recently predicted that the collective growth of the entire North African region would decline from 4.5% in 2010 to less than 1% in 2011. IIF has further projected that GDP growth of Yemen will fall by 4%, and that of Syria, Egypt and Tunisia would shrink by 3%, 2.5% and 1.5% in 2011.
Although military Keynesianism might feel presumptuously correct, history bears testimony that political upheaval is often followed by economic paralysis. Immediately after the 1789 revolution in France, the economy was in doldrums. The 1917 Soviet Socialist Revolution led to huge economic commotion. The impact of Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979 was so severe that it triggered the 1980-81 recession. This time too, it doesn’t look like an exception will be made.
As per reports by The Arab Organization for Investment Insurance and Export Guarantees, foreign investments in 18 Arab countries have declined from $83.9 billion in 2009 to $64.3 billion in 2010, which is a decline of 23.4% or $19.7 billion. Foreign investment is further projected to decline by 15% in 2011 in the region. Saudi Arabia, the largest FDI recipient, has seen the biggest fall by 41% from $35 billion in 2009 to $21.6 billion in 2010. Another facet to it is that most of the investments that these countries are attracting are going into real estate, banking and oil infrastructure; while there is no surge in investment in IT, education, health, automotive, et al. Unemployment in Arab nations remains the highest compared to any region. According to a McKinsey report, unemployment rate of the Arab region is as high as 25%, far higher than the global average of 8.8%.
The impact of political unrest is worse for Yemen, Libya and Egypt. As per the Gaddafi government, the unrest has cost Libya over $50 billion. While oil remains its major earning, technology and infrastructure are in complete mess with no idea of when they will be get back to normal again. Realising the severity, the World Bank has agreed to lend $2.2 billion to Egypt and WB and IMF together have promised $1 billion to Tunisia. Saudi Arabia has also promised to aid Bahrain with a lump sum, while Iran has also promised to provide loan to Syria. But they have to go beyond these token gestures now. A lesson can be learnt from the East European crisis, when Europe created The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development for recovery. The Arab world needs something similar. Would this crisis be able to unite them?