The new Arab Spring's economies: who benefits?
A key question hereafter is the economies of the new regimes in various Arab states like Libya, Tunisia and Egypt. The Arab Spring was not about ideology but employment and economic problems. Therefore, there is one clear message to the new regimes: If they fail to satisfy their people's expectations, they will fail. Masses who did not stop in the face of authoritarian leaders such as Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Hosni Mubarak or Muammar Gaddafi will not tolerate the new regimes if they fail to bring about serious economic development.
Briefly, Arab politics now faces two difficult tasks: One is economic recovery in urban areas which includes employment, housing and social services like health and transportation. The other is about the integration of the rural population. The second is critical as failure in this field may help extremist like the Salafis in the long term. Based on these, new Arab governments will have to prioritize dealing with employment, basic social services, housing and major infrastructure investments. Naturally, the key word will be the middle class. The success of post-Arab Spring politics will be determined by the new regimes' success in creating a viable middle class.
Another relevant question in this vein is also simple: Who can help the new regimes realize these goals? Which country can help Arab states with their major task of investing in infrastructure like social housing? The answer is again simple: Turkey. The Turkish economy, which is led by export-oriented mid-sized companies, will play a key role. What the Arab states need now cannot be solved by high-technology oriented economies. Arabs now need roads, houses, hospitals and new schools. Turkey is comparatively the strongest candidate to offer what the new Arab regimes need in their economic struggle in urban and rural areas. Countries like the US cannot carry out such missions. Similarly, big Western powers are likely to be busy with higher agendas like oil and energy.
In fact, the numbers prove my thesis. In terms of trade, Turkey has been doing very well with the Arab states over the past six months. Turkey's trade volume with countries like Tunisia is now better than it was before the Arab Spring. For example, Turkey's automobile exports to Tunisia increased by 68 percent in the first half of 2012. Libya has become the third biggest market of Turkey's furniture industry. The more Arab states become stable, the more Turkey will increase its influence. In this vein, the field of construction should be especially emphasized. The Arab Spring virtually halted the Arab economies, thus a huge campaign of construction is expected. To satisfy social demands, new Arab regimes should construct houses, hospitals and roads. Turkey, which holds the second seat in the world construction league, will certainly start huge construction projects. The only exception now is Syria. But in a post-Assad Syria, Turkey will economically also be very active here. It is not difficult to expect that Turkish investors will economically dominate northern Syria.
However, for maximum gain, Turkey should be very careful in two areas: First, Turkey should have a realistic balance between politics and the economy. Second, Turkey should keep an open dialogue with all actors (Islamist, secular, nationalist, Kurdish, etc.) in the region. All political actors should keep in mind that Middle Eastern politics, like other parts of the globe, are now becoming more region-oriented. These regions refer to somehow closer economic areas within the nation-state. Thus, along with national economies, there are regions with different economic and political priorities like northern Iraq. To maximize their gains, countries should realize the differences among these regions. Turkey should therefore also study the economic regions within the Arab states.