Since the start of the 2011 Arab uprisings, a debate has emerged in Washington concerning the focus on development assistance in response to citizen demands for economic advancement and more accountable governance, notes Scott Mastic, the director for Middle East and North Africa programs at the International Republican Institute. Advocates of economic assistance argue that popular demands for jobs and an improved quality of life is what drove citizens to the streets in Tunisia, Egypt, and beyond; therefore, U.S. policy should prioritize programs supporting economic stability and growth, he writes for the Fikra Forum.
A new poll by the International Republican Institute (IRI) shows that Tunisian citizens directly tie perceptions of their economic situation to the political transition’s progress, revealing an important linkage between both factors. This data suggests that progress on the political track is crucial to effectively managing the public’s mood about the state of the economy. At the start of Tunisia’s 2011 revolution, initial public euphoria was high with 79 percent indicating that the country was headed in the right direction. However, by October 2013, with little to show in the way of progress in the country’s political transition, that number flipped to 79 percent saying that Tunisia was moving in the wrong direction.
In this most recent poll, IRI’s first since Tunisia’s formation of a caretaker technocratic government and passage of a new constitution, numbers have again shifted toward the positive (right direction up 31 points). The key indicator that changed between the October 2013 and February 2014 surveys was future economic expectations. In asking people what they expect about their household financial situation in the next year, the February survey revealed a 18 point positive shift in the number of people saying that they expect it to get either somewhat better (37 to 51 percent) or much better (7 to 11 percent).
Trends in IRI polling data in Tunisia and elsewhere suggest that the immediate post-election period will see another positive leap in both public attitudes and expectations. The trends underscore the importance of a U.S. policy that provides economic assistance, but also one that helps the current government and next government achieve success by effectively managing expectations and delivering on core democratic governance principles……
Scott Mastic is the director for Middle East and North Africa programs at the International Republican Institute, a core institute of the National Endowment for Democracy.