07/06/2022, 16.55
MIDDLE EAST
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Arabs see democracy as weakening the economy, like China’s model

A survey conducted by Arab Barometer between late 2021 and early 2022 in nine Arab countries and the Palestinian Territories shows that a majority of respondents believe that democracy does not guarantee stability and development. More and more people are frustrated by their living conditions. Lebanon is the worse-off country.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Arabs are increasingly losing faith in the democratic system to deliver economic stability and development in the Middle East and North Africa, this according to a survey conducted for the BBC’s Arabic service by Arab Barometer, a research network associated with Princeton University and the Center for Political Studies.

Nearly 23,000 people were interviewed across nine countries and the Palestinian territories between late 2021 and Spring 2022. Most believe that an economy is weaker under a democracy. The findings come just over a decade after the so-called Arab Spring protests called for democratic change.

For Arab Barometer director Michael Robbins, views on democracy have shifted across the region since the last survey in 2018/19.

“There's a growing realisation that democracy is not a perfect form of government, and it won't fix everything,” he says. “What we see across the region is people going hungry, people need bread, people are frustrated with the systems that they have."

In every country involved in the research, more than half of respondents say they care more about the effectiveness of government policies than the form of government.

In seven countries and the Palestinian Territories, more than half believe their country needs a strong, authoritative and charismatic leader who knows how to "bend the rules" to implement projects and guarantee development.

By and large, for most respondent, the economy is the biggest challenge followed by corruption, political and social instability, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Only in two countries is the economy not a priority nor the most critical problem, namely Iraq, where people are more concerned about corruption, and Libya where instability is the main issue.

At least one in three people in each country surveyed say that, in the last year, they have run out of food before they had enough money to buy more.

The struggle to put food on the table is felt the most in Egypt and Mauritania, where more than 65 per cent of respondents say they are often in conditions of deprivation or need.

The survey began before the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, which further exacerbated food insecurity across the region, especially Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, which rely heavily on grain imports from the conflict area.

Among the countries surveyed, Lebanon has a special place, ranking dead last with only 1 per cent of Lebanese questioned saying that the economic situation was good.

For the World Bank, Lebanon’s economic crisis as one of the most severe since the mid-nineteenth century.

Overall, most people do not expect the situation to improve in the coming years, with less than a third of respondents confident in a positive shift in the next three years.

For Robbins, the future is “uncertain”, and people in the region may be looking to alternative political models of governance, like China’s, an authoritarian one-party state that has "brought a huge number of people out of poverty in the last 40 years".

This is the kind of "rapid economic development” that “many are looking for”.

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