Toward A New Arab Economy.
The turmoil in Libya and the Arab world today is a major conundrum. Citizens are upset and are revolting. In Libya, where conditions are worst, Western forces have already sided with civilian rebels in attempting to oust Gaddafi, with little or no exit strategy. Barack Obama, along with the Arab League, NATO, and other international groups, have expressed fervent wishes that the erratic leader step down. Now world leaders are faced with two possibilities in Libya.
Should Gaddafi somehow beat back the rebelling civilians to the point of surrender, we will see a new, perhaps more brutal Gaddafi in power—vested nonetheless, but probably still with immense waves of malice and unrest in his native population, once charged with such sincere revolutionary fever. If he is defeated, as most world powers want, Libya will be faced with a new problem—how a new leader will rule a nation so currently discontented.
The unsatisfactory position of Libya’s proletariat is repeated elsewhere, if not to quite the violent extent, but the significant unrest at citizens’ own governments is nonetheless strongly persistent elsewhere in the Arab world. Many Arab countries at the present time see popular revolts happening from Tunisia to Egypt, Yemen to Bahrain. In almost all these cases, it is the leader himself who is unpopular, and in almost all these cases, it is the lower and working classes of the respective nations who are starting the opposition. America’s rich friends, already benefiting from the rule of the respective leaders, express little need for a change in power, particularly since the revolt is more over the conditions of the working class than over any particular religious or philosophical ideology.
But the problems remain large, and a time for action in the Middle East is obviously upon us. Something must be done to quell the revolts of the working class and to determine how we will leave Libya.
The problem is severe in the Arab world. About a third of all Libyans live below the poverty line. Yemen has almost half its citizens living in poverty, ex-Egypt president Mubarak had been siphoning billions from the populace for years, and the Tunisian revolt—the first such contemporary Arab revolt—was begun by a disgruntled street vendor who set himself on fire to protest unsatisfactory conditions for economic opportunity in his country. And now there has been this tremendous catalyst effect of discontent through populaces. What do we do?
I believe the problem in many of these countries, and in Libya in particular, can be assuaged through reforms made largely within the nations’ governments.
This is what we as Westerners must teach them. Libya, in particular, does not have to be a unilaterally wealthy nation, with only those involved in oil commerce possessing such a huge portion of Libya’s capital. Ninety-eight percent of Libya’s industrial activity comes from oil and gas related activity.
Most, if not all, of the assets from this activity are controlled by the state.
Gaddafi’s government has made billions in the oil industry, yet much of this money has been frittered and lost due to waste, corruption, conventional armaments procurement, and Libya’s own erratic search to develop weapons of mass destruction. And although Libya boasts one of the highest per capita GDPs in all of Africa, almost 40% of the country is unemployed. The same is true in many other Arab nations. All these countries have a great deal of state control over wealth reserves, yet little system to distribute it.
Libya has extremely strong oil reserves. So do Yemen and Bahrain. Tunisia has a strong industrial sector. They all have excellent financial ties with many nations of the world, and they all currently face major civil unrest, despite having established themselves well as self-secure industrial nations, competing well and in fairness with other nations. This, then, therefore, leads to one stinging question. How can popular unrest be put to sleep in Libya, if not internationally, within the confines of each state itself? They are warring with themselves. And the U.S. needs an exit strategy for Libya.
Economic principles dictate that citizens not receiving compensation from their country, whether in the form of employment, kickbacks, or other revenue, will be dissatisfied. To increase fairness and general satisfaction with living standards in Libya and elsewhere, I believe there needs to be a way to take the billions of dollars in the state government and distribute it to the populace at large.
At the same time, ways to innovate and improve industrial practices must be made to increase employment opportunities. If employment opportunities are not present, the government should pay its citizens a share of the business revenues it controls to compensate for this shortfall. I believe that even a small payment, much like the Social Security or entitlement system in the United States and elsewhere, distributed to those unable to work, would do a great deal toward improving overall citizen satisfaction with the governments and with their standard of living, improving conditions of rebellion and unrest in many nations currently in a state of divided crisis.
State control of commerce, while doing much to strengthen the economy of the respective Arab nations themselves, and of those individuals fortunate enough to gain employment within the system, has failed in providing a fully working economic mechanism for the functioning of the entire countries as a whole. Libya and other divided nations in the region must foster economic opportunity in other sectors besides oil both to diversify their wealth portfolios and decrease unemployment, and must also implement a system of benefit to citizens not working so all people living there may enjoy the benefits of the nation’s wealth stores. This makes sound sense and is well supported by Sharia law. I believe these reforms will not only lead to greater peace in the Arab world, and Libya in particular, but to a more solid social infrastructure for long term stability and prosperity throughout the region. Something must be done—conditions are not getting any better. Libya and the unstable nations in this region must see a way to achieve economic fairness that maintains the power of the nation and of the people at the same time once this crisis ends. I believe this is an excellent way to do it.
Andrew Weston founded and was the executive director of The Conservation Trust for five years. His first novel, “This Bluer Reality”, should be published soon, and he is working hard on his second, “The Home Fire”, as we speak. Find him on Twitter @AndrewRWeston