Amb. Wendy Chamberlin, President of the Middle East Institute, began by welcoming over two hundred attendees at the Academy for Educational Development. She emphasized the importance of “getting it right” with regard to development goals in Tunisia and Egypt after the revolutions, and ensured that the discussion would not be just another panel on the Arab Spring but rather, “what happens the day after?” Amb. Chamberlin cited the UNDP Arab Human Development Reports as a starting point for analyzing the economic and human security issues in the region.
UNDP Administrator Helen Clark also praised the series of UNDP Arab Human Development Reports, explaining how they have been “taken off the shelves” and quoted around the world. She then went on to describe the ways in which UNDP is helping to support democracy and reforms in the region. She highlighted a recent forum, sponsored by UNDP and held in Egypt, which included the Egyptian Prime Minister and a broad cross-section of Egyptians. She also mentioned UNDP’s work in Tunisia to help develop new political parties, combat corruption, and assist in security sector reform. Additionally, she stated that it is essential to protect the rights of women throughout this process. Clark also discussed UNDP's job creation efforts in Egypt such as small and medium-sized enterprises and micro-credit schemes.
Robert D. Hormats, Under Secretary for Economic, Energy and Agricultural Affairs for the US Department of State, commended the Arab Human Development Reports for having been conducted and written by Arab scholars, highlighting the importance of Arab-to-Arab dialogue and discussion of development goals. Hormats went on to explain how the Arab Spring exposed and rejected four common myths about Arab society that have been used to uphold the status quo. These myths included: 1.) Governments can hold onto power without responding to people’s aspirations or respecting their legitimate rights. 2.) The only way to produce change in the region is through violence or conflict. 3.) Economies based on the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few can be competitive in the 21st century. 4.) People of the region do not share universal aspirations of freedom, dignity, and opportunity.
Hormats stated that the US is committed to a long-term relationship with the people of the region, with particular emphasis on the youth population in these countries. He went on to discuss the shortcomings of US development efforts in the Arab world: there has been economic growth, but it has not benefited everyone, especially not the youth population. There is little access for the youth for entrepreneurial opportunities. Additionally, scientific advancement has lagged behind the rest of the world. Finally, gender issues remain an enormous problem both socially and economically, as a significant portion of the region’s human capital is not being utilized.
Hormats then discussed three US development goals for the region. First, the US is committed to stabilizing the economic situation within Egypt and Tunisia following their revolutions. Second, US efforts will be focused on modernizing the economic systems of these countries. And third, the US will help to create more opportunities for the youth population, in particular women and girls. He mentioned the importance of financial assistance for economic stabilization in the short term as well as long term support of economic reforms. Hormats closed by stating that political and social reforms must be matched with economic reforms in order to achieve prosperity.
Former US Ambassador to Egypt and MEI Scholar Edward Walker stated that he was encouraged by attitudes and efforts by international organizations and governments toward the situations in Egypt and Tunisia, yet expressed concern that the US is “limited in what we can do to shape the Arab Summer.” Walker pointed out that the problems that existed under Mubarak and Ben Ali still exist, even though the old leaders are no longer in power. Walker warned that the US may be glamorizing the Arab Spring and expecting too much too quickly from the interim governments. He mentioned that the military government in Egypt is still highly connected to the old regime, and is a status quo organization that is too cautious and has not yet embraced change or reforms.
Walker went on to describe the dire economic situation in the region, with particular emphasis on unemployment. He stressed that foreign assistance is “not a substitute for serious, locally-driven economic reform,” and that while the US should help guide the process of reform in Egypt and Tunisia, it should not tell those countries what to do. He argued that Egypt and Tunisia must define and create their own economic, social, and political systems and that, moving forward, the US must be creative and innovative in our strategies towards development in the region.
During the question and answer section, Amb. Chamberlin praised the independent nature of the Arab Spring and asked what challenges the US faces in the development and reform process in Egypt and Tunisia. She also asked about what specific actions the US can take and to what extent US involvement would be welcomed by the people of Egypt and Tunisia.
Helen Clark agreed that change and reforms need to be driven from within and not from outside. She mentioned that there may be some resistance to outside involvement in the reform process. She attributed this to two factors: one, the pride of the people in bringing about change organically, and the other, to the status quo characteristics of the interim governments. She concluded by saying that “expectations must be managed” and that the process of reform will be very difficult in the years ahead. However she stated that “you have to start somewhere” and that the spirit of hope throughout this has been encouraging.
Walker sited the lack of entrepreneurial activity and the difficulty of doing business as a major problem in the economic climate in Egypt. He recommended a “trade and not aid” policy in Egypt and Tunisia to promote growth, encourage entrepreneurship, and support venture capital programs for the youth population.
Robert Hormats cited the large number of college-educated Egyptians who have difficulty finding work after graduating as a major challenge. He suggested that Egyptian universities need to prepare their students for actual trades and professions, and that the “education system must be relevant” to the Egyptian economy.
This Event Summary was written by Mike Airosus, an intern in MEI’s Programs and Communications Department.
Assertions and opinions in this Summary are solely those of the above-mentioned author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Middle East Institute, which expressly does not take positions on Middle East policy.