Democratic transitions in the Arab world are unlikely to attract the international assistance enjoyed by post-Soviet emerging democracies, says the head of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
If transitional states fail to manage “impossibly huge” expectations, there is a risk that “disillusion will lead to extremism and instability,” said EBRD president Thomas Mirow.
“We know well, from our Eastern Europe experience, that change…is a very long and winding road,” he told a meeting at the London School of Economics.
“It is better to be straight with citizens, telling them that jobs cannot be conjured up overnight but that real economic change requires patience and unfolds over generations.”
Formed in 1991 to assist states in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union make the shift to democracy and free markets from one-party rule and central planning, the EBRD is trying to do likewise in Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and Jordan.
But with most Western democracies mired in or emerging from economic crises, the international context is far less promising than it was in the 1990s.
“Then, the international community probably had more money to be generous, compared to the age of austerity which constrains many governments and organizations today,” he said. “The truth is that the Arab world has chosen a bad time to revolt.”
The post-communist transitions also occurred at a time when alternatives to free-market capitalism had been discredited, but now “the task of making a case for capitalism, for the private sector, has rarely been harder,” Mirow said.
The global economic crisis eroded popular support for democratic and market principles, according to a recent ERBD report. But the less developed economies of the former Soviet Union remain enthusiastic about democracy.
While Tunisia “continues to develop promisingly,” Egypt’s prospects have been damaged by political uncertainty.
“It still has to be seen whether the military will step back from both overt and covert control,” he said.