The civil and political upheaval of the Arab Spring has irreversibly changed politics and society in Egypt, Tunisia, and the greater Middle East. Throughout the last six months, Washington has embarked on a protracted debate over how the U.S. can positively influence events in the region. And while U.S. policy in the Middle East has historically focused on oil and military assistance, the last several months have witnessed a new emphasis on investment, civil society, and human development. In his May 19th address on U.S. policy in the Middle East, President Barack Obama called for the implementation of a “robust U.S. economic initiative,” and announced that the U.S. will distribute $2 billion in new aid to Egypt. These resources will be divided evenly between helping the Egyptian government relieve its considerable national debt and financing infrastructure and job creation. No matter how you slice, aid is part of the foreign policy equation in Egypt and other Arab governments in transition.
The U.S. is far from the only donor attempting to seize the moment. The EU is reportedly ready to provide up to $8.43 billion in European Investment Bank loans from 2011 to 2013 in conjunction with financial assistance from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Additionally, the G8 intends to make $20 billion available to Egypt and Tunisia through multilateral development banks over the same three-year stretch. The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the African Development Bank have also publicly expressed willingness to provide financial support for the two countries in consideration. One other notable contribution has been the proposition by Qatari Prime Minister, Hamad bin Jassem, to create a Middle East Development Bank.
MFAN’s recent policy paper, A New Approach to U.S. Assistance in a Changing Middle East, recommended that the U.S. capitalize on the wave of democratic activism in the region and embrace a new model that, “moves beyond a narrow focus on security to encompass the democratic demands and economic needs of the people.” The paper proposes a number of guiding principles that will ensure that foreign assistance in the context of the Arab Spring is accountable, effective, efficient, and locally-owned.
For a more in-depth discussion on the “Arab Spring,” MFAN will be hosting an event on Thursday, July 21, from 10:00-11:30am entitled, “The New Middle East: Can Foreign Assistance Bolster the Arab Spring?” For more information on the event or to RSVP, please click here.