U.S. Leaders Failing to Set Good Example of Economic Growth for Arab World
Byline: Jamil Khoury
Jamil Khoury is an instructor of Middle East studies at the University of Chicago Graham School of General Studies.
President Bush proposed the development of a Middle East free- trade zone, an ambitious endeavor that promises to increase Arab access to U.S. markets, stimulate regional economic development, strengthen intra-Arab trade, generate more jobs and promote foreign investment, all within a 10-year time frame.
The idea was raised amid heightened discussion of economic liberalization in the Arab world, understood as integral to the expansion of liberty and the building of democracy. One need only survey the Arab Human Development Report 2002 to grasp the enormity of challenges Arabs face.
The courageous and refreshingly self-critical report, developed by 30 Arab intellectuals under the auspices of the U.N. Development Program, identifies major deficiencies in knowledge, freedom and woman-power as key impediments to Arab economic growth and greater integration into a rapidly globalizing world economy.
The report ponders a bleak outlook for a region chaffing under the demands of an increasingly young population confronting limited prospects. Yet, the resultant social and political alienation reinforces the region's downward mobility. As remedies, the report prescribes free-market capitalism, educational reform and the emancipation of women. The expansion of individual liberties and political participation are championed as key to unlocking human potential.
The authors also note lower rates of extreme poverty and income inequality in the Arab world than in other developing regions as a condition worth safeguarding. Yet as talk within the Bush administration turns to exporting (or imposing) American-style economics, I am forced to confront some unpleasant realities at home.
The American economy is in an undeniably dismal state. The president who rightfully crushed the tyranny of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein seems impervious to an economy that is wreaking havoc on millions of Americans. The loss of more than 2 million jobs, a $1 trillion national deficit, states teetering on bankruptcy and tax cuts that benefit the wealthy while punishing the poor, is a record difficult to market as the economic "ideal." Not to mention those crises the Bush team inherited, but seem in no hurry to fix, namely widening disparities in public education, abandoning millions of American children to substandard schooling, and the 45 million-plus citizens who lack health insurance and thus access to adequate health care. …