The Arab autocracy trap

Shlomo Ben-Ami writes: It has been more than six years since the start of the Arab Spring, and life for most Arabs is worse than it was in 2011. Unemployment is rife in the Middle East and North Africa, where two thirds of the population is between the ages of 15 and 29. And throughout the region, regimes have closed off channels for political expression, and responded to popular protests with increasing brutality.

The governments of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and, to some extent, Morocco, epitomize Arab regimes’ seeming inability to escape the autocracy trap – even as current circumstances suggest that another popular awakening is imminent.

Egypt offers a classic example of how revolution often ends in betrayal. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s dictatorship is even more violent than that of Hosni Mubarak, the strongman whose 30-year rule was ended by the 2011 uprising. With the help of a police force that he himself describes as a “million-man mafia,” Sisi has made repression the paramount organizing principle of his regime.

It would be a Herculean feat for anyone to reform Egypt’s economy so that it benefits the country’s 95 million people (plus the two million added every year). And it is a task that Egypt’s leaders cannot avoid, because the social contract of the Mubarak years, whereby Egyptians traded freedom for an expansive welfare state and generous subsidies, is no longer sustainable. [Continue reading…]

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