Instability is no good for political change in North Africa

02 August 2011

While highlighting a lack of reform, sustained unrest does more harm than good for the economy

The continued unrest in North Africa is keeping tourists away. In recent weeks, violence has flared up again in Egypt and Tunisia as frustration with the interim authorities mounts. The people want to see promised reforms pushed through far faster and the prosecution of key figures from the former regimes.

The lack of experience among the new political elite and the absence of mature opposition parties mean elections have been pushed back. There is a clear argument for taking things slowly. Decisions made today will determine the shape of the political system for years to come. The fear is that if pressure eases on the temporary leadership, associates of the ousted rulers could return to positions of influence.

Yet, the longer the unrest on the street continues, the more harm will be done to the economy, not just in terms of tourist receipts, but also in falling foreign direct investment. Any loss of income will leave governments less able to implement much-needed reforms.

In an effort to restore order, the police and military are once again pitted against the people. And rather than getting on with the challenging task of building the foundations of new democracies, the temporary governments are constantly having to look over their shoulders to see how the people are reacting.

There will come a time when the protesters themselves are holding back the pace of change, rather than pushing the reform agenda. And that time is not so far off.

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