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People change the destiny of nations

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People change the destiny of nationsThe Arab world is all too often in the headlines for geo-political tensions and cross border conflicts. Today it is in the grip of a peoples' uprising that is demanding change in political regimes, respect for citizens' rights, governance and quality of life. 

The breadth and force of this peoples' voice has caught the world and the most politically astute of analysts by surprise. The Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia lent confidence in turn to regime change in Egypt, the largest population in the region. These events have been further motivation across the Middle East and North Africa.

The new reality is what armies and rebels could not achieve, the region’s youth, women and civil society -- supported by media and information technology -- have managed to achieve swiftly.

Given that the region is a strong hub of oil and gas producers and home to an extraordinarily rich culture and tradition, this awakening of Arab citizens, if responded to well, may mark a new era for the Arab world. Today, Arab citizens are energized and have a sense of self empowerment. Seeing their own power at work, despite political and economic uncertainty, people are filled with new aspirations and hope. If offered basic rights, a nurturing environment and good access to services, Arab citizens can lead their countries to new heights and better shape their own destinies.

Recognizing the significance of this historic and momentous change, the World Bank, a long standing development partner, is positioning itself to respond to emerging democratically elected governments. In the face of dynamic and fast-changing events, we need to be responsive and responsible, flexible and vigilant. We need to engage voices beyond the state machinery and reach non-state players including youth, civil society and private sector. We must  ensure that these voices are well integrated into emerging development strategy and programs.

We have lessons from our global experience to build on and I would suggest we might initially focus on four building blocks:

There is an urgency to move coherently and systematically because uncertainty will magnify the risks associated with political instability, and economic slowdown will have repercussions for the vulnerable. As a first order of priority, interim government’s need to focus on achieving a smooth political transition consistent with public demands and setting up institutions that will hold corrupt and vested interests accountable. At the same time, rebuilding macroeconomic stability is critical to regain the confidence of private investment. Factories must open, business return to normal. Over the transition ahead and for some time to come, restoring social stability will need well-targeted subsidies and social programs, labor intensive public works programs for the unemployed, and a supportive environment for the private sector and small and medium enterprises to take the lead in the employment generation.

The sea change in the political dynamics of the Arab world offers a unique opportunity to state organs, youth, civil society and development agencies to work collectively to meet the aspirations of Arab citizens. There is a rich and important debate ahead. I hope we can contribute to that using this blogging platform. More importantly still, I hope we will hear in this space from voices across a spectrum which has just opened up so historically before us all.


Submitted by Noor Aftab on
I would like to extend my congrats to Dr. Akhtar for beautifully bringing out the most workable solutions eloquently. What is true for the Arab nations is true for Asia and the emerging economies. We are living in interesting times where a nation crushed by 30 years of dictatorship can bring freedom in less than 18 years through media, social media and "tribes" (groups of people with similar vision who have gotten together for one common point). I saw this amazing awakening in the Arab World at Abraaj's Celebration of Entrepreneurship in Nov 2010 in Dubai. Little did I know those early sparks would ignite a revolution that would change the world we live in. It's also amazing how the leaders world wide are thinking along similar lines and understanding the modern engines of growth are the untapped segments of women and youth. Through the floods of 2010 in Pakistan and the 8 months that followed afterward, through our NGO Shahina Aftab Foundation, three critical lessons we learnt that are game changers for any sector and more so for development sector are this: 1) For lasting change we need to invest in youth through education, technology and skilled training 2) Women are an integral part of the society. The word for them is "interdependent". Don't make them too dependent on male folks: you would be unable to use their potential towards economic, social and community development. Don't make them too empowered and independent, they would not be able to blend in their communities, look after their families or contribute their best. 3) Social media and technology are an absolute must for brining about long lasting change. The reforms that used to take hundreds of years, due to social media, online sharing and technology take less than 100 days. Once again thanks for a great article. Much needed!

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