President Barack Obama will use tomorrow’s major speech to announce a raft of economic and trade initiatives for Tunisia, Egypt and other Arab states committed to reform.
The package will be “far bolder than previous American economic assistance to the region,” according to a Wall Street Journal report.
The initiative is both timely and essential, observers suggest, given the growing concern that prospects for democratic transition are being jeopardized by economic instability.
Many are also concerned that emerging democratic states will be unable to meet the expectations and address the socio-economic grievances that fuelled the protests, feeding disillusion with democracy and creating a fertile breeding ground for illiberal forces or authoritarian restoration.
The G8 democracies have a “collective responsibility” to invest in Tunisia’s transition with a program of urgently-needed economic assistance, an eminent group of economists said today.
But, they caution, failure would be “a victory of all dictatorships of the region and a severe defeat for democracy.”
The Mediterranean state is well poised to make the transition from “autocratic capitalism to democratic capitalism,” said Olivier Pastré, an economics professor at the Université de Paris 8.
The Group of Eight economic powers should use next week’s summit in France to announce a package of assistance to incentivize the region’s elites to pursue reformist policies, using Tunisia as a test case for the wider Arab world.
“Its small size makes Tunisia the perfect experiment for democracy and a unique opportunity to prove that democracy can flourish harmoniously in the region,” they contend.
The cost of investing in Tunisia’s success is equivalent to only 2 or 3 percent of the cost of German reunification, or less than the cost of two months of spending in the Iraq war, say the 21 economists, from the universities of Harvard, Tokyo, Frankfurt, Paris Dauphine, London, Bonn and New-York.
Economic assistance is vital, but the region also needs investment in the social and human capital required for a vibrant civil society in order to facilitate democratization.
Obama‘s first priority should be “aid, you know, not only financial aid, but also institution building, restructuring, technical assistance, education scholarships,” says Said Sadek of the American University in Cairo. “You need to change the area to be ready for democracy and assist the transition to democracy.”