Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Back from blogging hiatus

So it's been almost 2 months since my last post.  I haven't been keeping up with my plan to post something almost every day.  I am now recommitting myself!  Not to the insane asylum, but to trying to put something up every day.

And there has been a lot of news in the past two months, obviously.

In my last post I said that Mubarak and Qadaffi might want to worry, and that was indeed true - Mubarak has now stepped down and Qadaffi is in big trouble, but holding on.  I was somewhat right that Qadaffi was likely to hold on because of that country's dependence on oil - he has a freer hand to crack down on rebellious citizens because he doesn't rely much on local tax dollars to survive.  But the rebellious citizens are doing a good job of taking control of the oil fields and refineries and whatnot, and the international community is freezing his foreign assets where they can find them, so he eventually may run out of funds, but he obviously has a lot saved up and lots of arms and so on stored in and around Tripoli, so it will take a while before he feels those constraints.

I also said Egypt gets a lot of aid.  That's somewhat true - it's one of the main aid recipients from the US - but it doesn't actually get all that much aid given the size of its population and economy.  Plus aid is not as unconditional for dictators as it used to be - the US, the main source of Egyptian aid (accounting for about half), was pressuring Mubarak not to crack down on the protestors, as was the EU (accounting for about a third of aid - the rest comes from multilaterals and Arab sources).  So that money stream wasn't impervious to his actions against protestors.  And although Egypt does actually have a fair amount of its exports coming from fuel, it relies much more heavily on tourism, and tourists don't want to visit pyramids when nice democratic protestors are being shot.  On top of that the role of the military (which also has economic interests that would be harmed by a crackdown) made Mubarak much more constrained regarding potential responses.  So not entirely surprising that Mubarak stepped down faster than Qadaffi, but slower that President Ben Ali in Tunisia.

Below is a scatter plot I presented in a lecture.  These are countries with majority Muslim populations, arranged by income level (from around 2007) and mineral fuel as a share of manufacturing exports.  Generally the pattern in Muslim countries is that either they are poor, or most of their exports are oil and gas, or both.  So it is not surprising that few of these countries are democracies.  The exceptions are in Africa, places like Mali and Senegal, and Turkey (with income level around $6000 per capita, adjusting for living costs) and not in the Middle East or North Africa.

However, the richest Muslim country that does not rely on fuel exports is Tunisia - somewhere in the $8000 per capita range, after adjusting for local living expenses.  About half of the other countries in the world with similar income levels are democracies (e.g., Dominican Republic, Jamaica) although those countries do have their problems (gang violence, drug trafficking, etc.).  Thailand also has a similar income level, and after a pretty good run of democracy became one of the highest income democracies ever to revert to dictatorship.  Apart from Cuba, the countries with income levels similar to Tunisia that are pretty stable dictatorships rely heavily on oil (Iran, Gabon).  So, based on two economic factors that tend to be consistent predictors of democratic transition and survival, Tunisia was the best candidate among Muslim countries.

Egypt is a less likely candidate for democracy than Tunisia, with lower income and more fuel exports.  So we'll see what happens there.  I'm fairly optimistic that the military will eventually allow for democratic elections, but they will continue to be a power behind the scenes, perhaps as they traditionally have been in Turkey.  They might even arrange to have their role in the political system formalized in a new more democratic constitution.

Other potential candidates, based on the above, are Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, with high income levels and increasingly diversified economies.  But these countries are obviously ruled by monarchs.  I think it is in the realm of possibility that the king of Bahrain will allow for his parliament to have more real popular representation and power (I think currently half the parliament is elected and half is appointed, something like that), and allow a new constitution in which he chooses the formateur - a prime minister that then must be able to win majority support in the parliament.  A Glorious Revolution in the Gulf, if you will.  I'm not predicting it but I think it's possible - his position isn't as stable as some of his neighbors, given diminishing oil reserves and a majority Shiite population, and the US with its military base there might be able to encourage some type of compromise.

OK, that's enough about the Middle East, which I'm not claiming to be an expert on.  I should read up and post on Nigeria, which has elections coming up in early April, and do an update on Cote d'Ivoire, where Gbagbo still hasn't given up power and has probably benefitted from the world's attention being diverted by events in North Africa, and an update on Southern Sudan, and see where else news is happening.

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