Daily Archives: December 28, 2011

In 2011, the young men and women who surged into the squares of Tunis, Cairo, Damascus, Sana’a and Benghazi gave a new meaning to the term “Arab street”. Long used to denote a sullen, inchoate, unfocused rage, it came to mean a yearning for democracy, for a political form long identified with the western world alone.

Will this quest for democracy be deepened, in 2012 and beyond, by the establishment of representative government, a free press, and an independent judiciary? Or aborted by new forms of authoritarianism or a return to older rivalries?

The transition will depend in part on the models the protesters seek to uphold. Rather than looking west, Arab democrats should study the experience of the newer democracies that lie to their east. Consider India, where every general election is the largest expression of the democratic franchise in human history; where the military is kept firmly away from politics; and where people of all faiths have equal rights under the constitution and in law.

Even more relevant is Bangladesh, which now has an average annual growth rate close to 5 per cent. Its military has retreated to the barracks, the Islam on display is more ecumenical than literalist, and there is a vigorous civil society.

Can a culture steeped in Islam respect women’s rights? Can a polity dominated by the army break free of it? Can a desperately poor country assure decent education and health care as well as economic growth? Arab protesters might find answers to these questions in a country to their east that does not yet appear to be on their horizon. Read more

Next year is not going to be better, and one might just stop there. Whatever temporary fixes are applied to the eurozone, American deficits and joblessness, the overheated Chinese real estate market, petering Indian reforms or stalling Brazilian growth, they are all symptoms of a structural global economic dislocation which is becoming increasingly disorderly. Yet politics may be deceptively calm in 2012 – calm until later.

As to the economics, two shifts are underway. One is between the old western economies and the formerly emerging economies, notably those in Asia. The second is that the globalisation of markets has created two new classes of winners: a global super-rich of innovators, traders and bankers; and a class made up of the Asian and other emerging market manufacturing and service sector workers, who have undercut western labour costs.

The big losers are western middle class and blue collar workers, who have lost out dramatically. The source of this crisis is their decades-long loss of competitiveness and income, which politicians have tried to cover with unserviceable levels of sovereign and household debt. Now the bill is due and nobody will be unscathed.

Yet politics, at least for 2012, will be driven by tactics and electoral timing. The great revolt will come later. Next year, tactically adept incumbents may survive by offering stability at a time of chaos. Their chances are particularly high if they can identify with the pain of their citizens more effectively than weak challengers. Read more