August 26, 2013


The Middle East's Arc of Prosperity (Anne-Marie Slaughter, 26 August 2013, Project Syndicate)

In the immortal words of James Carville, Bill Clinton's campaign manager in 1992, "It's the economy, stupid." The dismal failure of Middle Eastern and North African economies to deliver the prosperity that their people desperately want is a constant factor pushing people into the streets. It is not the only factor, but rising food prices helped to spread revolutionary fervor from a small group of activists to much of Egypt's population in 2011, and again this year in June, when the most frequent grievance against former President Mohamed Morsi concerned not his ideology but his indifference to ordinary Egyptians' needs.

Against this backdrop, Israel and the Palestinian territories are relatively stable places. Israel's high-quality infrastructure could easily be extended to the West Bank and Gaza if security could be assured, and a young generation of entrepreneurs and technologists has grown up on both sides of the border. Forbes magazine reports that "hundreds of Israeli[s] and Palestinians are becoming actual business partners and colleagues in startups that are slowly transforming the Palestinian economy, at least in the West Bank."

This is most true in high-tech industries, the sector in which the Middle East lags the most. The author of the Forbes article describes a scene in Ramallah that is "indistinguishable from one in Austin or San Francisco," where "twentysomething Palestinians sip cocktails, their laptops open, their smartphones on."

All of this activity is taking place against the odds. Alec Ross, a former senior adviser for innovation to former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, argues that the best way to reinvigorate the peace process is to provide 3G Internet connectivity to the West Bank. He quotes a young woman in the audience at Palestine Polytechnic University, who said, to loud applause, "We must have a better economy to have better lives, and we must have 3G to have...a better economy."

Posted by at August 26, 2013 6:15 PM

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