Cool Spring—The #ArabSpring revisited (Economist Intelligence Unit webinar) #EIU


The following are my notes from the webinar that was presented by Robert Powell, Senior Analyst, Middle East of the Economist Intelligence Unit on June 29, 2012.

All modern revolutions have ended in a reinforcement of the state… Albert Camus

1. Arab Spring—overview

In the past 18 months, there have been some positive developments, such as the 4 leaders ousted in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and Yemen, with relatively free-and-fair elections held in those countries. Some other countries experienced political reforms, such as a new constitution in Morocco, a freer press in Algeria, and the parliament in Oman being given limited legislative power.

However, on the negative side of the ledger, the domino effect has stalled, with the effort to unseat Assad in Syria being stalled and devolving into a civil war. In those countries that experienced a revolution, there was economic disruption and a drying up of capital inflows. Those that did not experience any sort of revolution, like Saudi Arabia, however, came off unscathed, and in fact have experienced an economic boom to the rise in oil prices.

Fig. 1. Mixed results for the “Arab Spring”

2. Arab Spring—Political/Economic Outlook in “Arab Spring” countries

Here’s a country-by-country look at the political and economic situation in the countries of the Middle East and North Africa that have experienced a successful (Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Egypt) or an abortive revolution (Syria). In the following chart, “MB” stands for “Muslim Brotherhood”.

The color code for the boxes is: green means improving situation, yellow means neutral or stagnant situation, and red means a worsening situation. They are listed from best to worst in terms of medium-term outlook.

Fig. 2 Political/Economic Outlook in Arab Spring Countries

Country

Political

Economic

1. Tunisia MB clear winner; constitution referendum delayed, but progressing Exports and tourism improving, but slowly due to Euro Zone
2. Libya Parliamentary elections in a few months; MB will do well Oil production back to pre-revolution levels
3. Yemen New president proving assertive Oil production ½ of pre-revolution levels
4. Egypt MB (Moursi) did well in elections, but has to share power with SCAF;
Constitutional draft process is key
Economy in trouble; IMF funding needs to be replaced
5. Syria Slipping into civil war; Turkey pushes back on refugees due to downed plane incident Regime finances crumbling

3. Arab Spring—Political outlook in “onlooker countries

For those countries which did not experience revolution, here are some trends that have obviously been sparked by the “Arab Spring.”

Lower-level protests and promises of constitutional change occurred in Algeria, Jordan, Morocco, Oman, Bahrain. Here is the short-term tendency of political reform in these countries, with green means improving situation, yellow means neutral or stagnant situation, and red means a worsening situation.

Fig. 3. Political Outlook in non-Arab Spring Countries

Country

Political Reform

1. Morocco Reforms went farthest
2. Oman Some parliamentary power gained
3. Algeria Unpredictable
4. Jordan Political situation very shaky
5. Bahrain Saudi Arabia helped squash revolution

Note:     There was not a lot of specific information in the presentation regarding these countries compared to the Arab Spring countries in Fig. 2.

Saudi Arabia is a special case; although the short-term prospects of political reform are non-existent, there is a potential for medium-term change when the oldest members of the ruling family pass away and there is a succession to new crown princes.

3. Economic Output in Middle East and North Africa countries

Here is a chart of real GDP growth in 2006-2010 or “pre-Arab Spring” and 2011-2012 or “post-Arab Spring”

Fig. 4 GDP Growth Before Arab Spring and After Arab Spring (UPDATED)

Country

GDP Growth

2006-2010

GDP Growth

2011-2012

Egypt

6.2%

1.7%

Tunisia

4.6%

0.6%

Yemen

4.0%

-6.9%

Syria

4.9%

-5.8%

Libya

3.2%

0.5%

Saudi Arabia

2.8%

6.0%

UAE

3.2%

3.4%

Those countries whose economies have improved after the Arab Spring have figures in the second column that are green, and those whose economies have deteriorated have figures in red. 

You can see that Saudi Arabia has done particularly well in the region due to the rising oil prices.

4. Forecast for Political/Economic Reform

The forecast for the future of political and economic reforms has changed from the original presentation made on the Arab Spring back in April due to the present. Here are the three probabilities assigned to the neutral, pessimistic, and optimistic forecasts for the region.

Fig. 5. Economist Intelligence Unit Forecast for Political Reform in MENA

(last year’s forecast compared to this year’s forecast)

Forecast Type Forecast Title Forecast Explanation 2011 2012
Neutral K Democracy (in name only) Reforms results in creation of democratic structure, but w/o genuine accountability 60% 60%
Pessimistic L Authoritarian rule Efforts to build democratic institutions derailed 20% 30%
Optimistic J Democracy (in reality) Representative democracy takes root in region, leading to genuine popular participation in govt 20% 10%

J

You can see that the possibility of a negative outcome has increased from 20% to 30% and the probability of a positive outcome has decreased from 20% to 10%.

5. Conclusion

Robert Powell concluded by saying that, despite the setbacks, the Middle East has changed, but there is a growing risk that democratic change may be checked or even reversed.

He feels that significant long-term economic growth will occur only if democracy takes root. Despite the short-term wealth of Saudi Arabia, a regime’s longevity should not be confused with its stability.

The revolutionary movement in the region has a legitimacy with the common people that will endure.

Tomorrow I will present the question and answer session to this talk that came after the main session presented above.

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