Today I was browsing the latest issue of IPSOS Mori’s Understanding Society bulletin. It features this graph, showing the economic confidence of Middle Eastern citizens over the years leading up to 2011’s wave of revolts.
It’s Egypt’s level of confidence that catches the eye here – a serious decline in confidence in the economy, with two thirds convinced the economy was in poor shape. So what was the economy doing? One might suppose that it was in recession, since the global economy was in distress over that period. In fact, here’s what happened:
So the economy doubled in five years, and two thirds of Egyptians thought the economy wasn’t good? How is that possible? Perhaps this is a clue. This is the percentage of people living in poverty in Egypt, for the same time:
While the economy doubled, the percentage of people living in poverty in Egypt actually rose. No wonder there were riots. (Although it’s the speed that’s the issue here – the UK is really no better, just over a longer time frame)
Two lessons to draw:
1) When politicians insist that growth is the only way to end poverty, it isn’t necessarily true. It can work, but only if the benefits are shared.
2) When foreign policy responses to the Arab Spring turn to economics, be wary of those claiming that Egyptians need more free trade alongside free speech and free elections, as William Hague intones here.