Arab world needs a capitalist revolution
In the thousands of articles and broadcasts about the Arab-democracy movement, there’s something crucial that’s missing, a hole where essential thinking should be. Something vital left unsaid.
The brave protesters in the squares and the dictators defending their regimes talk about freedom, order, justice and who’s to blame. But no one says how the newly revived nations will improve the material lives of the people.
Yet it’s obvious that free citizens, equipped with political power, will demand jobs. They will expect better food and housing.
That will require a much higher level of private commerce, an imaginative Middle East equivalent of the wealth-generating forms of business that now dominate everyday life in Europe, the Americas, China, India — even Russia.
But the Middle East has never seen business as a part of what defines freedom.
That’s not because Arabs are averse to commerce. Arabs often exhibit great talents in business, but they usually do so outside the Arab lands. Within those countries, the idea of making money through commerce has simply not emerged as public policy. As a result, stunted economic development has left the Arabs under the power of corrupt royalty and corrupt soldiers. A failure to understand this fact could kill the entire democracy movement.
There’s a fairy-tale tone to economic life in the Middle East. It emerges when those who are heirs to uncounted billions make king-like disbursements of their family money.
This week Sheikh Khalifa, who inherited the presidency of the United Arab Emirates from his father in 2004, ordered big salary increases for civil servants in the judiciary, health and education departments. Senior officials will receive 35% increases, mid-level officials 45%.
The stated purpose of this generosity was to mark the 40th anniversary of the founding of the UAE. It was like a birthday gift. Sheikh Khalifa also announced a US$2.7-billion fund to help the poor pay their debts and raise wages of some state employees. The UAE has avoided political unrest this year and Sheikh Khalifa apparently believes that slightly fairer distribution of the oil revenues will be seen as economic reform.