Democracy and Society

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Institutional Change in the Arab Spring

Recently I read an interesting Bloomberg article from Amity Shales discussing the role of economics and institutions in the Arab world. Among all the promise offered by the Arab Spring, there loom a host of pitfalls and potential disasters which might prevent progress in the region while keeping resources just as concentrated as they ever have been, if not more so.  The dangers of suddenly liberalizing markets in resource rich areas are nothing to take lightly, and in any period of change and transition opportunities to abuse and manipulate institutions for personal gain are at their most plentiful.  In this uplifting period it is thus critical not to overlook the importance of institutional development amid excited cries of freedom.

In a way it is both uplifting and terribly unfortunate to see economists now speaking casually about the flaws of transition in past nations.  Whenever I read one author or another’s words on the “free for all” which took place when Russia’s economy opened up, however accurate the commentary might be, I can’t help but feel somewhat appalled.  On one hand I am pleased to see that the transition is essentially recognized as a massive resource grab by societal elites, but on the other it seems terribly callous to so casually mention mistakes that impacted millions of lives and continue to do so.  That being said, these voices are a terribly important contrast to those clamoring presently for a quick economic transitions in Egypt and Tunisia.

The assertion that institutional development is critical in this stage of change (dare I say transition?) is one which must be taken to heart.  In the months and years ahead these societies will develop the rules they have to live by for the foreseeable future, in the wake of revolution those who struggled to change their system must take care not to rest on their laurels now.  While I was less than comfortable with Ms. Shales’ assessments of the importance of westernizing, in sum her insights and warnings are just the sorts needed to ensure development and social justice in nations now faced with the rewards and challenges of self-determination.


Posted by on May 31, 2011.


Categories: Democracy, Development, Economics, Governance, Institutions, Middle East

One Response

  1. I too agree with her diagnosis but not the prescription. Yes, “it sounds colonial”.

    by Yuan Li on Jun 1, 2011 at 1:32 pm

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