May 25th, 2011
07:00 PM GMT
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Like the royal wedding that preceded it, the visit of President Barack Obama to Britain has been orchestrated well. Beyond discussions of the essential relationship, the U.S. president went out of his way both in his speech before both chambers of the British parliament and in his news conference with Prime Minister David Cameron to support what he calls the emerging democracies of the Middle East.

At the front of the queue are the two countries that sparked the uprisings, one of the least populated, Tunisia, and the most populated in the region, Egypt. There has been criticism from many camps that the U.S. president has been dragging his feet in supporting the North African states who overthrew Zine El Abedine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak.

The president’s speech was, in part, an effort to reverse that view, backed up by real money from the U.S., the World Bank and others to follow. Last week, the U.S. said it will earmark $2 billion for Egypt –- half in debt relief and the other half for financing infrastructure. Another $2 billion will go into a broader package to support investment into small and medium-sized enterprises, with the hope of tackling youth unemployment. After all, we should not forget that what sparked the uprisings was a lack of economic opportunity and the inability to have a voice in the political arena.

That has all changed, but taking the example of the fall of the Berlin Wall, it is important to manage expectations on the ground. As former White House adviser Laura D’Andrea Tyson rightly notes there is “now a huge expectation that the transition will immediately lead to success and of course the process itself has made it more difficult.” In the German example, there was unification and a cash surplus nation in West Germany that could step in immediately. That is not the case in North Africa.

Tourism arrivals according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization were down 44 percent and 45 percent in Tunisia and Egypt in the first quarter. So foreign exchange earnings are down sharply.

What President Obama seems to be after here in London is momentum building, which is in the spirit of the U.S. leading from behind. The president is suggesting that the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has the expertise in a post-Soviet environment to expand its reach to the Mediterranean. The European Commission is reportedly looking at adding another $3.5 billion to the effort as part of its new neighborhood policy.

While western expertise and limited funding are always useful, strategists like Tyson suggest leading players from the wealthy Gulf States can provide the essential funding in a targeted way. There is early talk that the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council will come to the table with substantial sums. It did so earlier this year for Bahrain and Oman and sources are indicating more is on the way.

This may very well be the case of the U.S. leading by example and building a late but vital consensus for these emerging democracies.

soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. G

    Obama' fellow American are suffering back home but he wants to move forward with $2 Billion. A handout to people who hate us. Instead of pushing the greedy gulf states to take care of their own 'Muslim Brother'. Why the hell should I care about these fools. Obama – First help your 'American Brother'

    May 25, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
  2. Rob

    Obama to Middle East: We’ll show you the money !! Yeah !!!!! "printed money"

    May 26, 2011 at 12:04 am |
  3. juan sol

    Mr Obama, I think there is no need for the US or any other country to give money to any of these countries, all they need is to give them back their own billions that their old rulers hid in the US's and Europe's banks.

    May 26, 2011 at 12:56 am |
  4. Ron

    Yeah Mr. President, great speech and all. But where do you expect to GET the money?

    May 26, 2011 at 1:37 am |
  5. Tom

    Our continuing hope that we can influence nations by giving them something for nothing in order to bring about democratic change is absurd and naive. One need only look at our history to see how well that works out – it never makes it to those who need it.

    Interesting observation that "after all, we should not forget that what sparked the uprisings was a lack of economic opportunity and the inability to have a voice in the political arena." Ummm, maybe we should be looking a little closer to home guys. Four billion in aid would provide salaries for between 60,000 and 74,000 Americans or seed money for 40,000 new and existing businesses who need that same economic opportunity. But then what voice do we mere citizens have in the political arena?

    May 26, 2011 at 3:03 am |
  6. Hal

    USA is bankrupt and debt ridden and is pledging literally worthless paper money.
    One wonders what these two bankrupt jokers are upto living in virtual reality playing dangerous war games in North Africa, Middle East and Asia and looking for yet more wars.
    One also wonders if these two represent the will of the people they govern or represent the new face of Democratic farce in which Governments cease to represent the will of the electorate once elected?

    May 26, 2011 at 4:34 am |
  7. Tony Rozycki

    Hey-Hey, Ho-Ho,
    Barack Obama has got to go!

    May 26, 2011 at 11:58 am |
  8. John

    Unbelievable. We are drowning in a sea of debt in this country and we are promising other countries 2 billion dollars of money we don't even have. How pathetic! Why can't Egypt fix themselves, oh, I'm sorry! We will just fund the fix for them. Give me a break!!!!!!

    May 26, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  9. Pjoyc

    Never mind that we're taught charity is a high minded, good thing and I voted/will continue to vote for Obama... no US president is about giving 100% unconditional charity, so it'll come back somehow when we most need it. It'll probably happen at the pump.

    May 28, 2011 at 12:17 am |
  10. Henry

    Obama is truly a detriment to our society. Does he think money grows on trees? If so, we are a heavily deforested country. He needs to be removed from office. He is continually causing damage to our economy. I can't believe Americans voted him in, in the first place.

    May 28, 2011 at 12:18 am |

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