Charafeddine Discusses Arab Awakening

Raed H. Charafeddine, the first vice-governor of the Lebanese central bank, said in a speech Thursday that the Arab Spring has presented the opportunity for serious reform within Middle Eastern governments, a change that he argued would be instrumental in solving some of the region’s long-standing economic difficulties.

Charafeddine said that while accounts of the Arab Spring, the series of revolts that have toppled authoritarian governments across the Middle East, have placed disproportionate emphasis on the movement’s political aspects, the economic changes ushered in as a result of new governments will have important—if unnoticed so far—consequences.

The recent revolutions have been a source of inspiration in the region, but the accompanying instability has also contributed economic uncertainty. As one of the leading causes of the Arab uprisings, economic decline remains one of the major issues facing citizens across the Middle East, said Charafeddine, who spoke at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

“It’s a vicious circle,” he said.

Charafeddine shies away from the use of “Arab Spring” to define the uprisings and prefers the phrase “Arab Awakening.”

“The region has the potential to emerge from the ‘Arab Awakening’ to the desired ‘Arab Spring,’ not ‘chaos’ or ‘winter’ or ‘mess,’” he said.

The protests across the region have now stalled somewhat, and it remains unclear what is to be done about the still-floundering economy. Charafaddine, for one, has a few suggestions.

Reestablishing investor confidence through foreign aid and domestic job generation will be central, Charafeddine said. But Charafeddine’s primary interest is short-term economic success in the region that might serve as a beacon of hope.

Above all, Charafaddine emphasized the centrality of government reform across the region, which will, he said, lay the foundation for economic improvement. This time, the government must keep the people in mind, he said.

“Nothing is as constant as change, and today, change is essential for Arabs to claim the international acknowledgment they deserve,” said Richard J. Saliba ’15, who is from Lebanon.

But the issue is complicated by several challenges inherent to the region, Charafaddine said, not the least of which include deep-seated government corruption, a lack of economic diversification, and skyrocketing youth unemployment—issues that gave birth to the uprisings in the first place.

Although the G-8 summit last May promised up to $40 billion in aid to Egypt and Tunisia, little of that money has been delivered. Charafeddine said that foreign and non-governmental aid will be an important component in rebuilding, as both Egypt and Tunisia are currently in the midst of precarious transitions to democracy.

Charafeddine’s talk was part of the Belfer Center’s Middle East Initiative.