The upheavals of the Arab Spring have created clear economic winners and losers in the Middle East and North Africa, with some economies withering in the face of unrest and others prospering on the rise in oil prices that resulted.
But a Gallup Poll of economic optimism among the region's people released on Monday paints a very different picture than the economic reality. In a few countries, confidence or lack thereof mirrors actual conditions but, in many, respondents to the poll expressed views at variance with the economy.
In Egypt, a 42 percent plurality of people see conditions in their country "getting" better, versus 37 percent who said it is "getting worse," according to the survey of 1,000 adults in each of 16 countries covered. The poll was taken between February and June 2011 even as the economy contracted, foreign currency reserves fell and foreign investment dried up.
Egypt's situation hasn't improved since the end of the polling period, with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasting growth of just 1.2 percent this year, a fifth of its level before protestors ousted President Husni Mubarak last February, setting into motion the political and economic gyrations that continue today.
Egyptian shares dropped to the lowest level in more than two years on Monday, a day after clashes between Coptic Christian demonstrators and security forces in Cairo left 24 dead and hundreds wounded. The declines pushed the index's year-to-date losses to over 45 percent so far.
The Gallup survey found Tunisians even more optimistic, with half of the respondents saying the economy is doing better, compared with 20 percent who said it was doing worse and 27 percent saying it was "staying the same." In fact, Tunisia's tourism earnings have dropped 40 percent so far this year while foreign investment plunged 25 percent in the first four months. The IMF projects zero growth for the economy.
Nathan J. Brown, a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University in Washington, DC, said the optimism detected in the Gallup survey may have less to do with economic conditions and more with the hope that the oligarchies targeted by Arab Spring protestors are now destined to be replaced by societies with better and more equal access to jobs and other opportunities.
"There was a strong sense in both [Egyptian and Tunisian] societies that resources were concentrated in the hands of a few people at the top, so even if economic indicators were good there were still issues of corruption and accountability," Brown told The Media Line. "The sense now is that if we get things fixed, we'll be better across the board."
The relatively sanguine outlook could be a boost for the two countries' transitional leadership as they struggle to restore order and revive their economies. Tunisians are scheduled to elect a constitutional assembly later this month and Egyptians will go to the polls in November in the first of a series of elections for parliament and president.
More Syrians saw their economy getting worse (34 percent) than getting better (32 percent), according to the Gallup survey, but the margin was relatively small even as President Bashar Al-Assad was fighting to keep power against a rebellion that broke out in March. His crackdown has come at the cost of what the United Nations estimates is over 2,900 lives.
The unrest has not spread to the key Syrian commercial cities of Damascus and Aleppo, but the toll on the economy has gradually emerged as sanctions by the European Union and Turkey go into force. The government recently imposed a ban on imports of most consumer goods in an effort to save foreign currency, but quickly backed down in the face of protests by the country's business elite.
Some of the most optimistic people of the Middle East and North Africa have reason to be smiling at their wallets.
Qatar tops the list for cheeriness, with 92 percent of those surveyed saying the economy is getting better. It is, as gas exports and revenues jump by leaps and bounds. Already the world's richest country as measured by gross domestic product per capita, the Gulf emirate's GDP is forecast to grow about 20 percent this year by the IMF; Qataris are looking forward to a $10 billion investment and building boom ahead of the 2022 World Cup.
Moroccans are also taking a rosy view of the future, with 68 percent saying their economy is getting better. King Mohammed VI has preserved political peace by introducing political reforms while GDP is forecast to grow 4.6 percent this year by the IMF.
But economists have warned that the growth is based on an unsustainable government spending spree. Wage increases for state employees and boosts to food and energy subsidies have come at the expense of public investment, depriving the country of its main engine for long-term economic growth.
The most pessimistic of all the people of the Middle East and North Africa are the Lebanese, Gallup found. Just 13 percent of those asked said their economy was getting better while 65 percent said it was getting worse.
"We still had a vacuum at government level. There was lot of certainty and economy was at standstill, so I'm not at all surprised by the results," Nassib Ghobri, head of economic research and analysis at Beirut's Byblos Bank, told The Media Line.
Last April, as Gallup was conducting its poll, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), forecasted GDP growth of 4.6 percent.for the country even though the Shiite movement Hizbullah had pushed Prime Minister Sa'ad Al-Hariri's government out of power and politicians were in the midst of a lengthy battle over the composition of the next coalition.
In June, a Hizbullah-dominated cabinet took office, but Ghobri said that hasn't done much to restore confidence, especially as neighboring Syria continues to reel from its own unrest.
As it turns out, the gloomier Lebanese public may have been more on target: The EIU last month cut its projected economic growth to 1.3 percent for 2011, citing domestic political unrest and the Arab Spring.
"Confidence has picked up slightly since the government formation, but it hasn't jumped to levels that would bring back to eco growth of 8 percent we saw on average in past four years," he said, adding that Byblos had cut its 2011 GDP forecast to 1.5 percent from a previous 2.5 percent.
Other bears include Iraq, where only 16 percent said the economy looked to be doing better, Yemen (19 percent) and the Palestinian Territories (also 19 percent). All three regions, in fact, have poor economic prognoses.
Brown warned that the optimism reflected in polls like the Gallup may reflect a cultural bias toward expressing confidence in the future so as not to appear defeatist. Recent events may be discouraging people, but that may not show up in poll data. "Numbers on optimism and pessimism are skewed in strange ways," he said.
- Beyond the Nation-State
- The Human Rights Council: 5 Years On
- United States Prepares Sanctions Against Iran for Bomb Plot
- Iran Denies Alleged Plot to Kill Saudi Envoy
- Cyber Security as a Wicked Problem
- An Alternative Eulogy for Steve Jobs
- Americas to Become Mecca of World's Energy
- Time for United States to Think Big on Latin America
- Latin Universities Index Doesn't Tell Full Story
- Blind Eye to Colombia's Questionable Human Rights Record
- United States - Cuba Policy Staggers from Inept to Pedestrian
- Rick Perry Proposal of American Troops in Mexico Stirs Criticism
- GOP Candidates Look at Narco-Terrorism Risks
- Dexia Bank's Collapse and the European Financial Crisis
- European Crisis: Precise Solutions in an Imprecise Reality
- Slovakia Thumbs Down on Euro Bailout Fund Hike
- Greek Anger and Greece's Survival
- A Win-Win Strategy for Investors in Greece
- Amid Strikes, Greek Workers are Hurting
- Without Textbooks Greek School Year Starts in Confusion
- Putin's Comeback: Fast Forward to the Past
- NATO and Russia: Missile Defense Sticking Point?
- Russia's Arctic Embrace: Cold War Reloaded
- Putin Calls For Eurasian Union In Former Soviet Space
- United Kingdom Riots: State of Denial
- UK Unemployment Rises to 17-year High
- Study Estimates 3 Million British Children in Poverty by 2013
- Bank of England Pours More Money Into Quantitative Easing
- Britain Shuts Down Family Access Immigration Route
- EC Recommends Serbia Gain EU Candidate Status
- Spanish Court Won't Let Cameraman Couso Killing Die
- Poland's Tusk Wins Historic Second Term
- Turkey: Making Room for Religious Minorities
- Cyprus: Waters Roil in Eastern Mediterranean
- A Nuclear Retaliation Alternative for India
- Strategic Partnership with Afghanistan: India Showcases Soft Power
- The India - Bangladesh Border: A New Beginning
- Pakistan's Sponsorship of Terrorism Is Undeniable
- Energy Crises and Riots in Pakistan
- Dante in Karachi: Circles of Crime in a Megacity
- Children in 2005 Pakistan Earthquake Zone Still Lack Schools
- Afghanistan: The Regional Complex
- Afghanistan's Energy War
- Afghanistan War Marks 10th Year Quietly
- Bono's African Philanthropy Could Use a Remix
- The Dadaab Camps: The Daemon in the Detail
- Dadaab Camps: A Day in the Life of a Refugee
- Senegal: Demining Machine Clears Path For Better Future
- Somalia: African Union Forces Attack Al Shabaab's Strongholds
- Worst Forms of Child Labor Still Widespread in Africa
- South Africa: Deportations of Zimbabwean Migrants Set to Resume
- Uganda: New facility to Concentrate on Cancer
- Africa: Why Involving Men is Crucial
- Zimbabwe: Poverty Alleviation Program Targets Kids
- The Economics of the Arab Spring
- Many Arabs Stay Hopeful Even as Economies Sag
- Arab World Poised for Economic Growth Spurt
- Fear of an Islamic Planet
- Riots in Cairo
- Egyptian Army Turns Guns on Its Citizens
- Timeline of Egyptian Sectarian Violence
- A New Phase in Post-Mubarak Egypt
- Boycott Looms as Egyptian Elections Near
- Anxious Campaign Season Opens in Tunisia
- Saudi Security Force Ramps Up
- Sectarian Rifts Erupt Again in Saudi Arabia
- Libya: Winning the Peace Collectively
- Concerns Over 'Rampant Torture' Rise in Syria
- Syria: Redrawing the Political Foundations
- Lieberman Calls for No-Fly Zone Over Syria
- Syrian Crackdown Reaches London and Paris
- Anwar Al Awlaki Death Doesn't Solve Yemen's Problems
- Yemen: Fallout from the al-Awlaki Airstrike
- Why America Should Pay Attention to Egyptian Elections
- Boxed in on the Middle East
- Even Non-Violent Palestinian Intifada Seems Unlikely Now
- Art Comes to Jerusalem Open Market
- Israel: Bittersweet Reunion of Righteous Gentiles
- Jewish Extremists Burn Mosque in Israel
- Israeli 'Price Tag' Vandals Mark Up Violence
- Rise of the Renminbi as International Currency
- China: Significance and Implications of Tiangong 1
- China Orders Closure of 13 Wal-Marts for Selling Mislabeled Pork
- China Launches Own Iron Ore Price Index
- South Korea's Naval Base on Ulleung Island
- Why 2012 Will Shake Up Asia and the World
- Rights Groups Moves High Court on Beheading of 8 Bangladeshi
- Bangladesh World's 5th Most Vulnerable Country for Climate Change
- Bangladesh's Grameenphone and Teletalk Partner on Cell Phone Early Disaster Warning System
- How Space Technology Aids Flood Response
- Philippine Supreme Court Reverses Ruling Favoring Fired PAL Cabin Crews
- Malaysia Refugee Swap Deal Gets Support from UNHCR
- Australian Alps Could Be Bare of Snow by 2050
- Qantas Orders 110 Jets from Airbus
- Coal Exports Boost Australian Trade Balance
- Hard Facts: The World Is Getting Better
- United Nations Can't Save the Oppressed, But It Can Give Them a Voice
- Obama's International Outsourcing
- Radical Islamist Cleric Anwar al-Awlaki Killed in Yemen
- Anwar Al-Awlaki's Death Major Victory For Counter-Terrorism
- United States Gaze Turns to Uzbeks
- Fiscal Union for the Euro: Some Lessons from History
- German Parliament Approves Hike in EU Loan Guarantees
- Preparing for Greece's Failure
- Despite Austerity Measures Greece Will Still Miss EU Budget Cut Targets
- Greece Working to Convince EU it Can Meet Austerity Demands
- Greek Parliament Approves New Property Tax
- Greeks to Face Further Tough Measures
- Albania's Unsettled Past
- Balkans Summit Extols Regional Co-Operation
- Erdogan Pushes for Common Future with Balkan States
- Turkey's Sinking Lira Defies Soaring Economy
- Kukan: Dialogue Not Barricades
- Arab Spring Turkish Harvest
- Iran at a Crossroads
- Iran's Support of Syria Is Backfiring
- The Mottled Relationship: Iran and Latin America
- Is It a Mistake to Draw Solace From Iran's Long Bomb Gestation Period?
- Arab Spring Added Pressures to Middle East Peace Process
- Israel Accepts Quartet Proposal to Resume Peace Talks
- Blocking Palestinian Statehood
- The Occupation That Time Forgot
- Israeli Parliamentarians Call for Annexation of West Bank
- U.S. Congress: Standard Bearer for Israeli Expansion
- Michele Bachmann 'Blames' Obama for Arab Spring
- Saudis Tussle Over Textbook
- Saudi Arabia Grants Women Limited Right to Vote
- Egypt Eyes New Arms Suppliers
- Saleh Return Deepens Crisis In Yemen
- Other Leaders Should Copy Brazil's Anti-graft Measures
- Obama's U.N. Omission: The War Next Door
- The Drug War Spreads the Bloodbath South
- Mexican Cartels and Pan American Games: A Threat Assessment
- Mexico: Death by Social Media
- Big Agriculture's Latin American Exploits
- Is Free Trade Good for Colombia
- China in Search of Energy Security
- Cuba's Domestic Reforms Surge Past Immobilized United States
- Fears Over Environmental Affects Prompt Court To Halt Mega-Dam Project
- Bolivian Workers Strike to Protest Controversial Highway
- Afghanistan is Obama's Gordian Knot
- Why Are Pakistan's Militant Groups Splintering?
- Questions Raised About Haqqani Network Ties with Pakistan
- Russia Strives to Clarify Vision for Central Asian Alliance
- Azerbaijan Faces Difficult Choice Between Turkey and Israel
- Azerbaijan Wrestles with Iranian Predicament
- In Post-Soviet Central Asia Russian Takes Back Seat
- Stabilizing Congo
- The Balkanization of Somalia
- Refugees Still Vulnerable in Southern Kordofan
- Al Shabaab Attacks Kill 16 at Key Somali Border Town
- Is Africa New Breeding Place for Terrorism?
- Somali Media Press on with Work Despite Deadly Challenges
- China-Indian Trade: Smoothening the Rough Edges
- The Survival of North Korea
- The 'Orchid Revolution' in Singapore
- Counterinsurgency and 'Op Sadhbhavana' in Jammu and Kashmir
- Indian Foreign Policy in Search of a Balance
- Philippines Struggles After Two Typhoons
- Typhoon Nesat Death Toll Rises to 20
- Obama's Dilemma: Foreign Policy and Electoral Realities
- The Theology of Armageddon
- Why Al-Qaeda Won
- Anti-Globalization Movement Endures
- WikiLeaks: The Game Changer
- Israel's Truths and Omissions on Vote for Palestine State
- How to Save Israel and the United States from Themselves
- Obama's Middle East Dilemma
- Palestinian Leader: Obama Wrong to Take Israel's Side
- Israeli Settlers: Never Shy About Taking Law Into Own Hands
- Israel: The Cost of Arrogance
- For Israeli Tycoons: New Strings Attached
- Israeli Innovation on Display
- Saudis to United States: You're Sleeping on the Couch Tonight
- Over 5,000 Killings In Syria Since March
- Iran Arrests Six for Supplying Information to BBC
- Iran: Naval-Gazing More Political Than Military
- Oman Assisting United States to Release Hikers in Iran
- Al-Jazeera: You're Not Alone
- Controversial Comeback For Egypt's Emergency Laws
- Turkish PM Erdogan Encounters Two Egypts on Historic Visit
- Turkey: Violence Casts Pall Over Constitutional Reform Efforts
- Turkey: How Much of a Safe Haven for Political Dissidents?
- Turkey's Neo-Ottoman Foreign Policy
- Libya to Have a New Government within 7-10 Days
- Libya Could Break Up Like Somalia
- Libya and the Bully Problem
- The Difficult Bit: The Arab Spring After Libya
- Middle East and North Africa Face Shortfall of Affordable Homes
- Lean Season Awaits Migrants Escaping Libya
- Kenya: NCDs and HIV Fight for Limited Resources
- Kenya: Thousands of Children to be Immunized Amid Polio Outbreak
- Horn of Africa Migrants Beaten, Deported, Imprisoned
- Rights Groups Report on Somalia Downplayed
- Congo Refugees Unwilling to Return Home
- The New Scramble for Africa
- Japan's PM Must Quell China's Fears About His Nationalism
- Fukushima Evacuees Slam Compensation Requirements
- Nuclear Data Feared Stolen in Hacks of Japanese Sites
- Second Lovers' Shooting Hits Largest Philippine Mall Operator
- Aquino Off to U.S. for Open Government Partnership Launch
- Aquino Orders Imprisonment of Former Philippine Military Comptroller
- Timeline of Australian Asylum-Seeker Debate
- Australia's Military Capabilities Up in the Air
- Islamist Rampage Blamed in Bangladesh Riots
- United States to Help Bangladesh Combat Bird Flu
- Indian Earthquake Prompts 'Wake-Up Call'
- Germany and the US: Toward a 'Special Relationship'?
- Britain - Russia: Beyond Politics
- Central Banks Lend Dollars to European Banks
- Eurozone Pushes Greece to Speed Up Economic Reforms
Copyright 2011, AHN - All Rights Reserved