December 26th, 2011
01:09 PM GMT
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Abu Dhabi (CNN) – This time last year a match was lit by a fruit vendor in Tunis, which triggered uprisings throughout the region. Countries big, Egypt, and small, Tunisia, have witnessed wholesale change and the toppling of governments.

But at the one year mark, those on the ground here in the region are asking a simple question: Are we better off today than we were before the Arab Spring? People talk of a “The New Middle East” with a mixture of both optimism and despair, from Bahrain to Yemen.

Clearly the voice of the people has been heard and resonates on the streets of Cairo, for example, but unemployment is at a decade long high in Egypt, tourism is down officially by a quarter from a year ago and the Cairo Stock Exchange is the world’s worst performer of 2011.

“This country is literally and figuratively burning and we are approaching the threshold which it will become very hard to rebuild trust in the system,” says Mohamad Al-Ississ, a professor of economics at the American University of Cairo.

Al-Ississ is not optimistic the region’s most populous country can escape “financial Armageddon,” with the erosion of trust in the military. The window of time between now and presidential elections scheduled for late June is considered critical.

Eugene Rogan, of St. Antony’s college at Oxford University, echoes that view. He says the military in Egypt went from “heroes to villains of the revolution in 2011.” But the author of “The Arabs: A History” believes 2012 will offer a great deal of insight on what Islamic-based parties will offer as they move from being the target of repression to the mainstream.

“They are making common cause with the liberal and secular parties to try and frame a new order in which Islamic values will sit side-by-side with secular values and a very much business friendly, attract back tourists sort of agenda,” says Rogan. Those who do not deliver the economic goods to the people of the Arab Spring he says “are not speaking the language of the day.”

In Tunisia, new Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali raised some eyebrows at home and in the international business community when he talked of “living the sixth righteous Caliphate” that will govern future development. Jebali comes from Ennahda, Tunisia’s most prominent Islamist party.

Tunisia’s respected Governor of the Central Bank, Mustapha Kamel Nabli, said in an interview that the new government’s policies and proposals to date are “private sector and market friendly” and that “pronouncements up until now are in that direction as well.”

The economy, he says, could grow by nearly 4% after only treading water during the year of the Arab Spring. It is not the domestic economy that will hold back projections, he believes, but the inability of neighboring Libya to recover and the lack of tourism visitors from Europe, which is struggling with its debt problems.

The government has less than four months worth of cash reserves but he hopes the corner will be turned in the next two quarters, with tourists and foreign investors putting Tunisia back on their priority list.

Egypt is in an even worse position for cash reserves, and is paying record amounts when it taps the bond market. The country garnered just under $50 billion in foreign direct investment in the five years leading up to the Arab Spring, but reforms took two and a half decades to get started under the Mubarak government. As Professor Al-Ississ points out, 40% of the population still live in grinding poverty.

Their frustration with the lack of shared opportunity and the level of mistrust with the military has led to the third interim government in less than a year.

Settling the unrest in Egypt, Al-Ississ suggests, is key for the region. The Military Council needs to get in sync with the Egyptian people before the one year anniversary of the uprising in Tahrir Square.

“This is the moment where we go forward or we go back to ground zero,” he said.

soundoff (36 Responses)
  1. Scott

    There is more to "freedom" and "democracy" than just throwing off a dictator. You also have to have a culture mature enough to come together, put aside their individual differences, and create a gov't that respects individual rights. The simple 'right to be different' is necessary for a free society. Frankly I don't see the arab culture being mature enough. All these countries are most likely going to end up with dictatorships again.

    December 26, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  2. Anthony

    Indeed. I am starting to have the impression that the Arab Culture is not suited for a non-dictatorial form of government. Don't get me wrong, not that it's a "bad" thing, but a dictatorship, um, done "right", might just be the key...

    December 26, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
  3. Shpd

    So what was the point of overthrowing Muborak, persecuting him (hence giving other dictators less motivation to step aside) when Egyptian living standards have only gotten worse? Democracy flourishes better from the inside. Has democracy been achieved during this Arab Spring thru blood and pain? See for yourselves in 2012.

    December 26, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
  4. Neo

    The arab spring came out from the frying pan into the fire..
    Now when the dictator are gone we have the religious extremists..

    December 26, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
  5. Bruce Rubin

    I am still waiting for Democracy in the USA. My Government handed over close My Government handed 11.6 trillion dollars over to the wealthiest banking corporations and I am having trouble paying for my kids college. When they protest here they get almost the same treatment as they do in the Middle East. Heads beaten with clubs, teargas, rubber bullets ect.

    December 26, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
  6. Baltahazar

    I have lived some time in cairo and I can say, the whole culture is like the western before 300 years (also the european had great poets, musican and composer).

    All modern technology they have and use is imported from the developed world, but the society structure is behind times and extremely religious, didnt pass any age of enlightenment yet, all they study and care in is the Qur'an, they dont get busy with any serious science..

    Its the same with their transportation, they have cars because other cultures invented and sold to them but they didnt develop a traffic system by their own, you must imagine a 15 million people city without any working traffic system or installed traffic lights..

    December 26, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
  7. Shpd

    I think Ron Paul is appealing to the broader American public but I'm pretty sure that the lobby will make sure he won't win the GOP nomination

    December 26, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
  8. mister mdnight

    eh, well hello?!? they are "arab"! bombs, swords, knifes camels etc....

    December 26, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
  9. OM

    Gee folks like you expect things to bet better over night after decades of mismanagement and corruption. Of course it is going to get worse at first. Just like in the old eastern block countries. This whole process will take 10-20 years at least before anyone can truely say things are better or worse. I bet writers in Europe made the same statements when 13 colonies started on the path of Democracy.

    December 26, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
  10. Ash

    Until the masses understand that 'change' takes a generation (30 years) to take hold and 100 years to be permanent there is no hope for a smooth transition. Perfect example is Egypt where that are now rioting againt the first 'new leaders' and making noises about those who may be the 'next leaders'. Unless they learn to be patient and massage the new systems to the point of being fine tuned, then yes, the Arab Spring will fail the people. If they can exercise patience and wisdom then it will be successfull in time.

    December 26, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
  11. Shpd

    OM Poland was pretty much a totalitarian state yet they managed to score on Freedom House in a matter of a few years

    December 26, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  12. Sherman

    This is a ligitament plea for the west to treat the mid east and all of Africa better than we have. Less than achieving that milestone it is a further act of plunder. The only ones that can affect the difference are the corporate actors. Wall street holds a gun to their heads – progress comes with corporations, and if there is no one that the corporations fear to cross, they will criss cross and double cross, and jay walk.

    December 26, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
  13. Len

    There is no such thing as a "good" dictatorship. There are too many, often less or bad educated people. There are too many differences in wealth, too much differences in income. There are too many young people to give realistic opportunities. Without oil the economic situation is disastrous. Education is often lead by religion. Indeed, it will take a long time and the will and power of the people to change that. This said, with a good organization there is a beginning. And a beginning is a chance for development, for all people, not only for the people who are rich already.

    December 26, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
  14. Christian

    A people - a culture - which has never known anything other than tribal chiefs, absolute monarchies, colonization, and dictatorships can not be expected to suddenly be capable of self-government. Democracy assumes that the people assume responsibility for their own society and future, not some imposed or "outside" force. In most of the world's hot spots this has NOT been the case and the people haven't a clue: the result = the chaos we are currently seeing. You can't expect miracles based on a model that has no roots in certain countries/cultures. FOR THESE COUNTRIES TO BLAME FOREIGN FORCES FOR THEIR FAILURE IS TOTALLY INVALID.....IT IS THEIR OWN (UNDERSTANDABLE) FAILURE.

    December 26, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
  15. Kerry

    They need to make a choice, keep religious rule or separate it from politics and find a way to make democracy work, religion only interferes and hinders that effort. The Muslim countries may need another century or more before they finally accept that. They have a choice to live in peace together or continue the battle for supremacy.

    December 26, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  16. Neeely

    So Poland did it in few years and that was great. Now everyone thinks that Egypt will never do it because full long eight months have passed? What a bias judgement. At any rate, what does the writer mean by are they better off or not. Of course they are. You can't put a price on freedom and the feeling that from now on, it doesn't matter who comes to rule they will be always accountable. There is no more fear.

    December 26, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
  17. Durendal

    Revolutions do tend to be messy and unpredictable as to there direction for the first few years/decades.Look at the American or French revolutions or the Russian revolution.You can never quite know what will emerge in the years to come.But I doubt it's a short term thing that will be over with in a year or so.The best advise that non-Arab countries can follow is not to interfere and allow for a natural development outcome as possible. Of course if they become violent we have to right to defend ourselves but other then that the world should avoid any interference from the outside.This incudes all the plans floating about to fund "pro democracy" or "secular" groups and what not it should all be done within the Arab countries themselves according to their own desires.This region hasn't know self determination for centuries always being ruled by outside forces or dictators.

    December 26, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
  18. Captain

    The issue isn't dictatorship or democracy, its a culture that values life, respect for others, hard work and accomplishment as opposed to a culture that glorifies death by martyrdom, coerces minorities into submission or extinction and is opposed to Western values. Moslem cultures in every country exhibit the latter values, not just the so called extremists but the majority culture. History proves it and the current voting in Egypt tells us that nothing has changed.

    December 26, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
  19. Durendal

    The military campaign in Libya was the worst thing that could have been done btw.It was basically a neo-colonial intervention by this countries former colonial masters France and Britain seeking to guide and protect their economic interests and bringing to power a puppet regime that will start to collapse at some point in the future due to it's lack of domestic legitimacy and corruption and being put in power by the former colonial powers with a clear understanding that it will protect it's interests especially regarding the oil reserves of Libya.I really doubt the current regime will live a long life because of Western intervention.Again it is better to have native developments good or bad.The only country that has some legitimacy and genuine support in the region is Turkey.If "the West" is to intervene it should be done through/with Turkey.

    December 26, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
  20. enkephalin07

    There will be winners and losers out of this, but it's too soon to tell which they are.

    December 26, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
  21. Vincent

    The only way these countries are going to be successful and free are if they develop secular governments. But the way things are going in Egypt I very much doubt that is going to happen. Modern countries must separate religion and state. While Shiri'a Law might be the right thing for a Muslim it will definitely not be for a christian. If they really want to "protect religion" they must embrace secularism,because in reality secularism protects religions, by not preferring one over the other. Secularism will also protect the Muslims living in Egypt and all over the Muslim world, as there wont be a clash between Sunni and Shia by the state not giving preference to one over another. And in turn not make laws benefiting one sect over the other. This failed to happen in Bahrain that is why we saw the huge protest earlier this year.

    I really love the Arab culture, they are so much more civilized then the west when it comes to family and friendship relationships. They are really really friendly and most will open their homes for you even if you are a stranger. There is a lot of good in the Arab world but they must really work out on making a society that gives science just as much thought as religion. If the Arabs put their heads together the middle east could become the center of business and science in the world. They have the means (oil) all that is missing now is "unity" and the pursuit of a dream.

    December 26, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
  22. Shpd

    Neeely so you think they are better off now? Haven't you watched the news about how the protests around a month or so were squashed by the "pro-democracy" government? The government might change, but the mentality of people who want to govern doesn't in the Egyptian case. There is too much corruption, greed, lust for power that takes place and is technically whitewashed by their convictions in "freedom" and "democracy". I think most Arabs are incapable of living by the rule of law at this stage in history. Agree or disagree, time is the best judge... and we'll see what will happen

    December 26, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
  23. thinknbecome

    This should be a lession to Russians,,, those at the corner crying for power wont do better...Arab Spring is a pointer

    December 26, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
  24. Shpd

    one more thing... why didn't NATO arm the Shias in Bahrain... they were being killed by the tyrant King Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa who perhaps is building WMDs to attack USA or Iran? I hope I got my point across.

    December 26, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
  25. Anthony

    That's how revolutions are....they succeed or they fail, and most of them end up coming as failures. Democracy doesn't take tomorrow to takes a much longer, painful process. The main part with this is to set aside all past and present differences and accept "being different". Tunisia was able to go into the transition smoothly, taken to the part that the only difference it is in Tunisian society is the political role between secularists and Islamists, and they're able to reconcile their differences easily. Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria, and Bahrain are much different....their societies are more polarised than Tunisia...since Tunisia has a much smaller population than these countries. Egypt in the other hand, have class and sectarian differences.....Egypt's "elite" is much stronger and have more power than it is in Tunisia (in Tunisia, it is only the Ben Ali family--in Egypt, it is both Mubarak and the military. With Mubarak gone, the military becomes the new dominant elite). Religious and sectarian differences also play a role in making these revolutions bloodier-in Egypt, there's Coptic Syria, Bahrain, and Yemen, Sunnis and Shiites battle against each other.

    December 26, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
  26. Ravi

    After revolutions in all these countries mainly Islamist parties are coming to power. I really doubt how much democratic norms they will follow. First thing they will do is to impose sharia laws. Religious freedom, life and security of the minority could be in danger. Democracy will never succeed in these countries untill they change their mindset and accept secular and liberal values.

    December 26, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
  27. steve802

    Iran, Iraq and afghanistan are clear examples of what these Arab states are now evolving into. Muslim fundamentalistic politics with violent infightings will be the order of the day. In short, more theological regime and more human tragedy are in the making.

    December 26, 2011 at 11:51 pm |
  28. OM

    Shpd, Poland unlike Egpyt had a Democratic history back before WW2. So it is not so suprising that Poland progressed well compared to other countries when it comes to starting Democracies. Trying to compare Poland to the Egpyt and other Arab states is pretty funny. Even South Korea had issues for decades moving toward the democracy they have now.

    December 27, 2011 at 3:18 am |
  29. swebit

    This should be a lession to Russians,,, those at the corner crying for power wont do better...Arab Spring is a point

    December 27, 2011 at 4:01 am |
  30. togirl

    I know the people who fought in the streets to topple the dictators want change or democracy and they want it NOW. I think the problem is that the people want the change, the army and the government, not so much. They aren't going to move at the pace the people want. I foresee a lot more turmoil because of this basic difference of opinion.

    With all this turmoil the one thing that these countries need is peace and calm. Investment runs at the very mention of war, and takes with it jobs. they need a few decades of political peace to get their economy going, and i don't believe they hav the patience to wait.

    December 27, 2011 at 4:23 am |
  31. Frank

    Only an ignorant white person would ask such a question so soon. Let an Arab write this story. The source does matter. More racist journalism.

    December 27, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
  32. Deepwater805

    The Arab culture is what's failing the Arab people. They are too prone to allowing islam dictate their future, and any dogma that allows the butchery that islam does is bound to fail in a modern society.

    December 27, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
  33. Peter

    If you think otherwise I have a lovely huge red bridge in San Francisco for sale. Yours for $50!

    December 27, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
  34. Lucke

    It failed in Baharain, Yemen, Saudi A.; seems in Syria, Israel, Honduras, etc... ;)

    December 27, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
  35. Sab swee Teh

    The Arab spring is a total failure! pity those who believe that they will have a better life. Their culture is not ready for democracy. Until they are fully educated, only then they will succeed. Another Iraq in the making!

    January 2, 2012 at 11:31 am |
  36. shoeupon67

    NEWS -. BANK RUN -TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO.CARIBBEAN. WEST INDIES, REPUBLIC , ROYAL , FIRST CITIZEN and SCOTIABANK . Customers are simultaneously closing their accounts fearing imminent bankruptcy and insolvency. Already failed in the same countries two large financial corporations CLICO and HCU. [ Global News Network ]

    January 8, 2012 at 3:08 pm |

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