Egypt’s people had at least two reasons to drive Hosni Mubarak out of power: (1) He was a dictator who denied Egyptians basic human and political rights; (2) Egypt was a failed state that kept at least 40 percent of the 84 million Egyptians in grinding poverty with incomes under $2 a day.
Toppling Mubarak will do nothing to solve problem No. 2. Without finding a formula to reduce poverty and point the nation’s economy toward growth, continued social and political unrest will only worsen.
A look around the rest of the world offers hope, however. Researchers with the Brookings Institute point out that the amount of poverty in the world has been reduced dramatically over the past six years, despite the global recession.
Here are excerpts from a report written by Lawrence Chandy, a Brookings fellow and Geoffrey Gertz, a Brookings analyst:
“ … We estimate that between 2005 and 2010, nearly half a billion people escaped extreme hardship, as the total number of the world’s poor fell to 878 million people. Never before have so many people been lifted out of poverty in such a short period. The UN Millennium Development goals established the target of halving the rate of global poverty between 1990 and 2015. This was probably achieved by 2008, some seven years ahead of schedule.
“Moreover, using forecasts of per capita consumption growth, we predict that by 2015, fewer than 600 million will remain poor. At that point, the 1990 poverty rate will have been halved and then halved again.
“The decline in poverty is happening in all the world’s regions and most of its countries, though at varying speeds. The emerging markets of Asia are recording the greatest successes: The two regional giants, China and India, are likely to ac-count for three-quarters of the global reduction between 2005 and 2015. Over this period, Asia’s share of the world’s poor is expected to fall from two-thirds to one-third.
“ … These findings are likely to surprise many, but they shouldn’t. We know that growth lies at the heart of poverty reduction. As the growth of developing countries took off in the new millennium, epitomized by the rise of emerging markets, a massive drop in poverty was only to be expected. . . . “
CITING THESE facts about Asia and other emerging markets is not a prediction that the Middle East will follow suit. But Egyptians and others who live in stagnant Middle East nations should find goading encouragement in examples they present.
Saudi Arabia and the other oil-rich Arab nations should look into their futures and conclude that the wisest course of action they can take to make their tomorrows inviting rather than fearful would be to create a vibrant emerging market in the Middle East. Oil money could be invested in creating a varied economy that put their millions of men and women to productive work.
The Middle East could create its own Marshall Plan that would lift its people out of poverty; poverty of the mind and soul as well as of the body.
China and India have made themselves over in less than a single human lifetime. They have moved from nations comprised primarily of small farmers in which most lived in ignorance and direst poverty into modern industrial giants. They have made prosperous workers out of starving peasants and turned tribal functionaries into business tycoons.
A Middle East renaissance would take its own shape but could have results that also gave the people solid reasons to ex-pect their children to have a much happier future than they can anticipate today.
All of the nations of the world will also benefit if this is the direction the Middle East takes now that it must travel on a new road.