The 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.
- Middle East and North Africa