“Arab Spring” won’t loosen West’s tight grip on Middle East’s economies

Arab revolutions mask economic status quo
Despite talk of a “new social contract”, financial powers seek to maintain their grip on the poor of the Middle East.
Mark LeVine Last Modified: 10 Jun 2011 15:56

The World Bank and IMF have been restructuring the economies of the Middle East for decades, with largely negative results. Yet they are poised to play a major role in the post-revolutionary efforts to stabilise Egypt, Tunisia and other post-authoritarian states.

The post-1967 era of the Middle East can, in many ways, be defined by the turn towards market liberalisation across the region, although the attempts by Western lending institutions to pressure local governments to initiate structural reforms goes back to the Nasser period. From the start of the 1970s-era infitah, or opening, under Anwar Sadat, there have been over a dozen episodes of mass protest and even revolt against IMF and World Bank-imposed austerity measures. Not just in Egypt, which has had at least four such episodes, but in Algeria, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey as well.

At times local governments made some effort to resist the imposition of what is today referred to as “Washington Consensus” policies, which advocate trade liberalisation, privatisation, opening economies to foreign goods and investment, stabilising budgets and exchange rates, and cutting government expenditures and presence in the economy. As one left-wing paper headlined a story in 1978: “Egypt puts the IMF on notice, heralding new era of economic development.”

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