Arab summer heats up the Middle East
The arab revolution erupted seven months ago and took the rest of the world by storm. People across the globe watched breathlessly as the protests spread, and governments scrambled to make sense of their foreign policies in light of the upheavals. When the first two dominoes, Mubarak and Ben Ali fell, the media felt it had exhausted the American attention span and moved on.
But the revolution is far from over. In Egypt, a military council holds control and continues with its predecessor’s tradition of human rights abuses. On June 29, the army clashed with peaceful protestors in Tahrir Square, injuring more than a thousand people. Meanwhile, the fight against authoritarianism continues in Yemen, Libya, Syria and the rest of the Arab world as well.
Clearly, the road to democracy is full of obstacles. Elite political networks are one of them. How have elite networks managed to hang on, even though their figureheads have been toppled? The answer can be found in the policies of so-called “developed” nations.
Fearing a change to the status quo, which would endanger their unjust balance of power and profit-making opportunities, developed countries and the international organizations that represent them have attempted to co-opt these homegrown revolutions.
At this year’s G8 Summit, member nations offered conditional aid to the Arab world to ease debt burdens and, at the same time, offered a way to further indebt them through more loans. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, international organizations often blamed for the corruption and abuse of power found in Arab governments, also promised these loans and aid packages.
The problem with these seemingly altruistic gestures is that they allow the lender a way to impose conditions on the struggling new governments. Such conditions may include increased privatization, which could eventually enrich the same elites that swindled their countries the first time.
Conditions may also include a cut to subsidies and state programs in a region living largely in poverty and desperately lacking in development. These loans will likely not be spent innocently on infrastructure, health, or services; rather, they will energize the familiar networks of privilege and offer them a way to continue controlling the country and profiting from its people.
Of course, the picture is not all bleak. Egyptians are camping out in Tahrir Square once again, in what some see as a continuation of the revolution. The Egyptian government, unlike some of its neighbors, has even rejected a World Bank loan on the grounds that it was not in the interest of the Egyptian people.
Despite the persistent efforts of foreign governments and international organizations, the Arab world is on the path to true self-determination. Although you wouldn’t know it by listening to our media, the revolution has been sparked again. Hopefully, Houstonians will soon get an excuse to wave their flags in support.
Dana El Kurd is a senior political science and economics major and may be reached at [email protected].