Arab Elites Defend Economic Models that Gave Rise to Arab Spring, but Made Them Rich

January 25, 2013

In Pt2 RAJA KHALIDI says in spite of people's urgent demand for economic change, Arab elites have not altered their dealing with the IMF and are trying to keep a lid on the region as a whole

In Pt2 RAJA KHALIDI says in spite of people's urgent demand for economic change, Arab elites have not altered their dealing with the IMF and are trying to keep a lid on the region as a whole


Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.

We’re continuing our interview with Raja Khalidi. He’s at the UNCTAD in Geneva. That’s the UN Conference on Trade and Development,

where he’s currently chief, Office of the Director, Division on Globalization and Development Strategies. He speaks here today with his own

opinions, which are not necessarily those of UNCTAD.

Thanks for joining us again.


JAY: So let’s just continue our discussion. As things unfold in Palestine and in the other countries in the Middle East—we can start with

Palestine—there’s a tremendous role being played by Qatar and Saudi Arabia in virtually all of the countries that had an Arab Spring. They’re

very involved in Syria, arming the opposition. They’re doing this in cooperation with the United States. There also seems to be—Turkey seems

to be part of this plan, at least as far as Syria goes. And when you look at what kind of Middle East they have in mind, I guess it’s a reflection

of what kind of countries Qatar and Saudi Arabia are, to a large extent, although some of these countries are going to have elections, and

they’re hoping the Muslim Brotherhood comes to power in these countries through the electoral process. But what kind of economies do they

want to build?

KHALIDI: Well, in the region, we haven’t really seen from these new governments any significant change in their posture towards their

economic—towards how they’re going to go about resolving the economic problems that in some cases I suppose you could say brought them

to power. In Tunis, perhaps less so than in Egypt (it’s been more pronounced in Egypt), negotiations of the IMF led to a renewal of—we’re not

sure of all the details, but the renewal of some of the same conditionalities that perhaps in some—in our view, at least, led to or contributed to

the buildup of the socioeconomic pressures that contributed to the whole uprisings of last year.

We haven’t seen governments yet adopt a different posture in terms of their dealings with the international community. And of course they

want— it’s reasonable that these transitional situations, you don’t want to scare off investors, you want to maintain whatever trade you’ve

got set up as a result of, many years of liberalization in all of these countries. So I don’t think that there’s, however, any realization yet among


I think there’s a lot of discussion in the media among experts, even among international organizations, of the extent to which different

policies are required, different, in some cases significantly, to those that characterize the regimes of the past 20 years [incompr.] But I don’t

see that trickling through to—seeping— penetrating yet into any of the policymaking that we’ve seen among Arab governments in the last two


JAY: I mean, the way it appears to me is you have Qatar and Saudi Arabia, together with Turkey, but especially in—other than Syria, it seems,

mostly Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and then to a large extent Qatar, managing these Arab Spring revolutions from Libya to Egypt in a way that

brings to power forces that will essentially carry on kind of neoliberal economic policy, so privatization and open the markets to foreign

capital and such, except instead of being done, for example, in Egypt under the dictatorship of Mubarak, it’s now going to be done with some

kind of democratic form, but with the face—the face of it will be the Muslim Brotherhood, and perhaps not only in Egypt.

KHALIDI: Look, I don’t think the alliances that have been built so far between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the Gulf countries in general, and the

new Muslim brethren dominated governments of Tunisia and Egypt are really predicated so much on the survival of an economic model. I

think the survival and the endurance of the economic model comes from much deeper causes, in a sense.

I mean, it’s partly because you don’t have policymakers in place who know anything else. This is the way that they’ve always dealt with

the world, and they haven’t yet internalized the extent to which the demands that continue to come up—and you’ve seen it even in the

constitutional—in the current showdown between—in Egypt.

The economic and social demands continue to be, increasingly more urgently voiced in some cases, because, nothing has been done to even

indicate that a different approach is going to be taken to dealing with them. And so I think there’s that.

I think the problem—what I’m trying to say is that the political alliances that you’ve mentioned are to do with other things. They’re to do with


JAY: Do you not think this is partly about the Arab Spring kind of let loose a lot of democratic forces whose demands were not just about

political democracy but were also about more economic democracy, and wanted to question, how is stuff owned and how is the wealth of the

country distributed? And do they not want to keep a lid on that?

KHALIDI: I don’t think they’re worried about that. I think they’re just worried about losing power, to be honest. I’m talking about now the

regimes who have yet to be challenged, the monarchies in particular. That’s what their main concern is, and keeping a lid on the region as a

whole. I don’t think that when they’ve promoted, be it in Syria or in Egypt or Tunisia, political or other forces allied to them, it’s been so much

because they’re assured that these people continue to run the same economic policies. I think the economic policies come along with other


In Arab politics, the economics, economic policies, of course it’s important, and of course they want to maintain the models that have made

them, a lot of elites in the region very rich, through illegitimate as well as other—even sometimes sanction forms of pillaging, if you wish, of

national resources. There’s no doubt about that, that there are a lot of forces that want to keep that system in place and that know that this is

being challenged widely.

On the other hand, I think that, at least in—money—in Saudi Arabia, at least, there was a major—and in some of the other Gulf countries, as

the first Arab Spring, real—the original Arab Spring, if you want to call it that, erupted, by the summer of last year, of 2011, they had handed

out some, I don’t know, at least $50 billion in extra payments, transfer payments to households.

So, in a situation where you have no organized—either at the national level in many of these countries or regionally, not only no organized

opposition, but there’s no real leadership for the Arab Spring movements, if you wish. There are different contenders to the thrones or to that

title, but in general this is still a very disparate movement, and each country has very different components, constituents, and demands. So, I

don’t think they need to worry too much about those demands turning into new pressure.

I think the issues that are being— that are being hotly debated are, unfortunately, to do with sectarianism, that sort of an—ethnic differences,

and obviously, political, constitutional liberties and all that as well. Those are determining the agendas of the political alliances of the region.

The other thing I wanted to say, though, was that, from the PLO’s—the perspective of the history of the PLO as a revolutionary movement in

the region, which, maybe it has—it is no longer, but it certainly was in the ’60s and the ’70s, into the ’80s, one could say, the PLO spent many

years fending off Arab governments’ intervention, to the extent that they actually officialized it by having an executive committee that had

factions, supported by Iraq, by Syria, etc.

So it’s nothing new to revolutionary movements in the region for governments, regimes who, even if they’re—these are not—in the Palestinian

case, it wasn’t a revolutionary movement against the Arab regimes, but of course the Arab regimes, certainly at the time and for many years,

wanted to make sure it didn’t become one. So it was better for them to rally around and, one could argue, at different times divert, etc., the

PLO’s course that it would have—. And as a result of which, the issue of the independence of the Palestinian decision, which is something that

Yasser Arafat, was famous for, always reaffirming as a way of implying, I’m not subservient to any of the governments, etc., it’s something

that even Mashal the other day, the head of Hamas in Gaza, reiterated.

So what I wanted to make—the analogy, I think, that is pertinent is that the Arab uprisings, as I mentioned, without leaders clearly identified,

without, organization even to represent them in any way, are even at greater risk of intervention. And it’s only natural that the governments

of the region will want to suppress, divert, hijack, ride the wave, whatever. And we’re seeing it in some cases. But we’re also seeing it continue

in Egypt. And I think even in the Palestinian case we’re seeing a continued popular, broad social base movement that is continuing to insist

on the things that we’ve heard even, from Tahrir in the very first months of this whole episode of the last two years.

JAY: Okay. In the next segment of our interview we’re going to talk more about Palestine. Please join us for the next segment of our interview

on The Real News Network.


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