A primary economic problem poor countries typically incur is not too much global economic integration, but rather, their lack of it. This coupled with the absence of freedom is a recipe for poor growth prospects, high unemployment, hopelessness, and ultimately, revolution. History is replete with examples.

One Came Tumbling After

The disintegration of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 illustrate the impact of economic isolation combined with the lack of freedom. Today, we are witnessing a similar phenomenon in the Middle East and North Africa.

We’re beginning to see a fundamental change in the Middle East, says Fareed Zakaria, host of CNN’s GPS and author of several books, including his most recent entitled The Post-American World. “This is the region’s 1989,” he continued. For a variety of reasons, however, Zakaria says the changes in the Middle East will occur at a slower pace than what was experienced in Eastern Europe, and not every country in the region will be affected.

The Reality of Repression

In addition to economic prosperity, globalization brings new ideas, customs, institutions and attitudes that originated in the West. This is dangerous to dictatorial regimes that typically place restrictions on the flow of information in an attempt to control their populations. The Middle East and North Africa are no exception.

Despair and hopelessness will slowly turn to hope, and those who were angry and disenfranchised are more likely to strap on money belts than bombs.

Freedom House, an independent organization that supports the expansion of freedom around the world, consistently identifies nearly every country in the Middle East and North Africa as either “partially free” or “not free.” The region is full of totalitarian regimes that not only deny their citizens freedoms Americans cherish, but also utilize trade barriers to isolate themselves from the world, as well as from each other. As a result, the region’s unemployment rate is nearly twice the world average, and an astonishing 25 percent for its young population, according to the Democratic Leadership Council, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

Thomas Barnett, author of The Pentagon’s New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty First Century, says regions or countries lacking economic and cultural connectivity with the rest of the world are those countries where you find instability, threats to the international system and terrorist networks. Many agree.

Barriers to Economic Integration Are Barriers to Liberty

The death of Osama bin Laden on May 1, 2011 is unlikely to significantly alter the state of global terrorism. Yet economic integration and greater freedom in the Middle East and North Africa likely will have a major positive impact.

Globalization, Poverty and Inequality, a report published by the Progressive Policy Institute, a Washington, DC-based think tank, says ”no country has managed to lift itself out of poverty without integrating into the global economy.” Why does global integration hold such promise for the Middle East and North Africa? Look at the facts.

East Asia and the Pacific, a region that has welcomed global integration, has generated annual growth rates among the highest in the world. Plus, in the short span of 1990 through 1998, the number of people living in extreme poverty there decreased 41 percent—one of the largest and most rapid reductions in history.

If global integration is accepted in the Middle East and North Africa, the region will be positioned to absorb new ideas, technologies and a myriad of other benefits from the world trading community. This will help the region diversify its exports toward agricultural goods and higher-value manufactured products, and in turn, create new jobs.

As trade and investment increases, the incomes of ordinary people also will rise. This will lead to higher standards of living and a better-educated and politically-involved population. In turn, despair and hopelessness will slowly turn to hope, and those who were angry and disenfranchised are more likely to strap on money belts than bombs.

Stated by Daniel Griswold of the Cato Institute (see his article on page 4), “Economic stagnation in the Middle East feeds terrorism... Young people who cannot find meaningful work and who cannot participate in the political process are ripe pickings for religious fanatics and terrorist recruiters. Any effort to encourage greater freedom in the Middle East must include an agenda for promoting economic liberty and openness.”

Open Markets Open Minds

The goals of ultimately establishing democracy in the Middle East will, no doubt, be difficult to achieve. But open economies help. Once markets are liberalized, their political systems follow. The adage “open markets open minds” is true.

According to Zakaria, George W. Bush deserves some credit for what has happened in the Middle East. “Bush put the problem of the Middle East’s politics at the center of American foreign policy. His articulation of a ‘freedom agenda’ for the Middle East was a powerful and essential shift in American foreign policy.”

This article appeared in Impact Analysis, May-June 2011, and The Buffalo News, June 8, 2011 under a different title.

John Manzella
About The Author John Manzella [Full Bio]
John Manzella, founder of the Manzella Report, is a world-recognized speaker, author of several books, and an international columnist on global business, trade policy, labor, and the latest economic trends. His valuable insight, analysis and strategic direction have been vital to many of the world's largest corporations, associations and universities preparing for the business, economic and political challenges ahead.

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