During my first visit to Yemen, I met with a group of young people in the capital, Sana'a. The purpose of the meeting was to learn more about how the youth are thinking; what is important to them; and how the World Bank can help them achieve their goals. I was amazed at the level of their understanding of priorities, the immediate and short-term ones. Their enthusiasm was overflowing with an expression of unconditional love to serve and develop Yemen, their country. They expressed their full readiness to contribute to the national dialogue and work to build the new civil state if they were given the opportunity to do so.
Once in the terminal, I looked behind me and the security services had closed the entrance to the terminal. It could accommodate no one else. It was barely 9:00 AM, and no one was being allowed into the terminal from what I could see. My sister’s instincts were right. If I had gotten to the airport terminal any later, I would have been turned away likely like thousands of others with confirmed reservations. From the corner of my eye, I could see that BA was already checking people in. For a flight at 4:00 PM, check in was already on-going at 9:00 AM. But, I had to get to check in station 4, and I was closer to check in station 24.
The phone rang. It woke me up shortly before 7:00 AM. I hadn’t slept most of the night due to the sound of machineguns firing consistently outside our window. And, this is the way it had been for a week since the curfew came to be. As soon as it got dark, shooting would start and it would be constant throughout the night. Tanks and armored personnel carriers were deployed all over Cairo. In Maadi, they were in every square and main intersection. With the internet and international lines all severed, communications with the outside world were impossible. Cell phones could not dial internationally, or receive calls from abroad.
People often ask me what exactly the World Bank means when it uses the term “governance.” Many think the governance agenda is associated mainly with activities to fight fraud and corruption. That is true, but only partially. In our view, fraud and corruption are visible consequences – symptoms if you like – of breakdowns in government systems and institutions. Ideally, countries should have strong institutions that are responsive to citizens’ needs and deliver public services. Ideally, countries should have transparent processes and regulations that benefit all citizens and the entire private sector, not only a small elite. Ideally, governments should have the capacity to ensure that public money is well spent and that policies are implemented.
President Mikhail Saakashvili recently addressed a standing-room-only crowd at a book launch for Fighting Corruption in Public Services, a case study of Georgia’s reforms. This short book provides a timely account on the “how to” of eliminating corruption, which all new government officials seeking to redesign the system should read. Emerging immediately after the revolution offered the government a unique opportunity for major reforms because of the overwhelming popular support for change. This experience provides important lessons for new governments in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya. Georgia’s success proves that corruption is not in the culture, but simply a response to poor governance.
Last week Al-Arabiya News had an article on the new (and old) Arab faces at Davos - "For years, the Egyptian government spared no effort or money to impress the Davos crowd. Ministers of trade, investment and finance were always on the chase for the next panel or interview, with Jamal Mubarak (as) the face of the more modern and energized Egypt. Scores of businessmen flocked to hunt for opportunities on the back of a strong government presence. Actors and pop stars were…the trendy part of the entourage. That was the Egyptian delegation before January 25, 2011."
Last week I was in Abu Dhabi for the opening of the joint World Bank – Arab Monetary Fund course on policies for inclusive growth. The course was offered to mid- and high-level policy makers and government officials working in central banks and ministries of finance in sixteen Arab countries. After the opening remarks, I was scheduled to start the course with two lectures on economic trends and inclusive growth in the region. I looked forward to the opportunity to engage with a diverse group of Arab policy makers on a topic that is so relevant in the context of the events of the past year.
January 25th, 2011 began like any normal Tuesday in Egypt except that it was a national holiday (Police Day). I had arrived three days earlier to the news of my mother being ill and in hospital. Everything in Egypt was normal on January 23rd and 24th although we all expected demonstrations on Tuesday the 25th. But, virtually everyone including the security services thought very little would come of it. On Tuesday January 25th the Imam in our mosque encouraged people to go to Tahrir and join other demonstrators. I hadn’t gone to the prayers, and maybe because I was so preoccupied with family matters, I couldn’t sense the gravity of the situation.
The Egyptian election brought a modest gain to the Stock Exchange. The EGX30 is up 6 percent since before elections in November and the broader EGX100 is up 1 percent. This suggests that the market is cautiously optimistic that the new parliament will be pro-business. The biggest gainer is Telecom, up 16 percent , though this may be related to renewed trading of Orascom after the company split, and less to the election. Still, other gainers are chemicals, construction and materials, financial services (excluding banks), and industrial goods and services (including automobiles), which are all up about 5 percent. Importantly, none of the 12 sectors are down more than 2 percent since the beginning of the election cycle (see chart below).
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In many respects the question of whether Turkey represents a model for kindred political movements in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has already been answered - with a clear, if not always resounding, yes. From the closeness of their names – at least in Egypt, Morocco, and Turkey – a variation on Justice, Development, and Freedom to strongly articulated support for political democracy and pluralism, the Islamist parties in Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia are sympathetic to and appear to be espousing positions broadly similar to Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP).