Livelihoods yet to feel change

03 January 2013

Regional uprisings have brought about changes in political leadership, but economic reform has yet to take place

It is still remarkable to think what has happened in the two years since Mohamed Bouazizi set himself alight in the Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid on 17 December 2010. Dictatorships have fallen in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Yemen, and appear close to collapse in Syria. Other regimes have been badly shaken, particularly in Bahrain and Jordan.

Yet for all the gains that have been made, it would be understandable if the average citizen of the post-revolutionary countries decided they were sick of protests. While the political events have inspired and enthralled people around the world, the daily reality for most people in the affected countries has not altered much. Job prospects remain dim, subsidies are being squeezed as governments try to cope with high oil and food prices, and overall economic activity is tepid at best.

In their defence, the politicians can point to the enormity of the tasks they were set and areas where important progress has been made. The problems created by decades of inefficient, corrupt rule by kleptocratic regimes cannot be easily dismantled and it is right that a new political framework is built first within which other decisions can be made.

Free and fair elections have now been held in many countries and constitutions are slowly being drawn up, although this is not always happening in an ideal fashion - the way in which President Mohamed Mursi pushed through a constitution in Egypt is not something others should try to emulate.

There is one vital policy area that has been left to languish on the sidelines, however. Two years on, the lack of credible economic reform programmes needs to be urgently addressed. Political infighting among the victors and the remnants of the old orders is inevitable, but it has taken up a lot of time. If the protests in the region have meant anything, it was that the citizens of these countries would at last be able to look to responsive and responsible governments that would prioritise their needs.

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