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Middle East Report 274


For 20 years leading up to the uprisings of 2010-2011, Egypt and Tunisia suffered the ill effects of neoliberal economic reform, even as the international financial institutions and most economists hailed them as beacons of progress in the Arab world. For the preceding ten years, workers and civil society organizations led a burgeoning protest movement against the liberalizing and privatizing trajectories of the Mubarak and Ben Ali regimes. Then came the uprisings, which brokered the possibility of not only new political beginnings but also alternative economic programs that would put the needs of the struggling middle, working and poorer classes first and at least constrain, if not abolish, the privileges of a deposed ruling class.

In Egypt, labor activists, journalists, NGO researchers and even a few government officials and capitalists eagerly shared their ideas for what should come next.Their visions fell into four broad categories, from left to right: citizen-led social democracy, democratic state-led development, top-down state-led development and return to the status quo ante. The citizen-led proposals were not based on any particular ideology, but were thoughtful and became increasingly detailed even as the arena for frank public discussion shrank. These proposals could form an integrated people’s program if there were a democratic elected government in Egypt committed to carrying them out. In Tunisia, democracy is muddling through with leadership inherited from the old regime, with many good ideas for economic change percolating upward, as in Egypt, but no coherent vision for how to construct a progressive alternative. In both cases, the default setting is the restoration of neoliberalism with an inclusive mask.





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