In Monday’s foreign policy debate, Governor Mitt Romney briefly mentioned the importance of economic reform in addressing some of the problems associated with the eruption of the “Arab Spring” uprisings.
The Heritage Foundation’s 2012 Index of Economic Freedom confirmed that the lack of economic freedom was a major factor that sparked the popular uprisings.
It is no coincidence that Tunisia and Egypt, the first two countries to experience the Arab Spring, were hampered by socialist legacies that created corrosive corruption and dysfunctional bureaucracies that were perceived to oppress rather than serve citizens. The state-dominated economic systems adopted by Tunis, Cairo, and many other Arab governments in the 1950s created structural and institutional problems that undermined economic growth and job creation.
As a result, the regional unemployment rate of the Middle East and North Africa averages more than 10 percent, one of the highest in the world. Unemployment rates are even higher for young Arabs, who formed the vanguard of the protests.
The catalyst for the Arab Spring, a young Tunisian food vendor named Mohammed Bouazizi, set himself on fire in December 17, 2010, after police confiscated his fruit and vegetable cart and humiliated him, apparently after he refused to give them a bribe. Many young Tunisians identified with his plight and were inspired to join popular protests that ousted the corrupt authoritarian regime of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who fled in January 2011.
Corruption was a major issue that also helped to galvanize opposition to governments in Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Yemen.
Many of the countries destabilized by the Arab Spring need not only political reforms and the establishment of more responsive governments, but also major economic reforms.