Friday, March 29, 2013

Time for business-executive politics in the MENA region

Time for the technocrats to take over in the Arab World

For decades Arab politics has been an easy ride for the well-established circles that governed states and countries in the MENA region. Whether it is by virtue of blood as in monarchies, money as in oligarchies or simply heavily organized lobbies with a deceiving democratic penchant, the politics our representatives and god appointed leaders engaged in, or lack thereof, has not seen much trepidations or dynamics that would enact a managerial paradigm shift.

Until the outburst of the Arab Spring…

Dictators ousted, oligarchs lynched and awry political institutions brought to a demise, it is more than ever critical to rethink how political engagement and leadership is meant to operate, not because it is now a privilege the Arab societies can afford, but because a transition post Arab Spring to liberal economies and democratic statehood cannot take effect in such a rapidly changing world as the 21st century.

Many could argue that the MENA region is in a natural phase of adaptation to the new realities the street pulse imposed, others would draw the parallel with the French revolution and the consequential bloody transition it endured before evolving into a democracy, yet that would have been the case if we were witnessing a corporate-like adaptation to new consumerism behavior; the reality is that we are now contemplating a damage-control and crisis-containment situation instead of a painful transition forward.

Politics is deeply linked to economics as Karl Marx rightly pointed out in his “Economic Determinism”, and in today’s world, this is even more true given how international trade, politics, business and domestic state management have all molded a unique and fragile system that can be impaired if one of its component goes bust. What I am trying to explain is that the economic environment the Arab Spring imposed on post revolutionary states has made any attempt for democratization unsustainable and non-viable in the short run. Economic recession, plundered foreign currency reserves, soaring unemployment rates and foreign deposits withdrawal are all a deadly recipe that hinders political success and sends approval rates down the pipes. It might seem as if economic troubles are a core part of a democratic transition, yet in a world where economic development is scoring a two digit growth in most parts of the developing world, financial hurdles coupled with political instability just makes it impossible for a country to recover and catch up in time with the speeding train. The public opinion is strikingly showcasing such phenomenon in Egypt and Tunisia where the economics didn’t add up for the casual citizen, bringing the masses from protest to protest with no clear vision of when it will all work as planned when the uprising was structured in the popular consciousness.

The stigma of political affiliation is not making things any easier for recovery. The ideological identity of the various representatives and institutions makes it hard for the public opinion to objectively assess the actions of the leadership, and to allow the state management to take due course. Whether it is the Muslim brotherhood, the seculars or the old regime affiliates, labels are not failing to bring down political efforts to wrap up the mess left behind the uprising. This leads to a state management that focuses not on credentials building, but on active defense of reputations and records from the stinging criticism of the public and from rapacious political opponents who capitalize on the failures of the state.

This allows us to formulate an understanding of the challenges the post Arab Spring imposes, and the potential nature of the solutions that can address such impediments.
The identity stigmatization is best resolved by the adoption of a technocrat system of governance that strips the decision makers from any political or ideological affiliation. A technocrat, not tied as much to approval rates, ideological bias or future political ambitions, can indeed channel more efforts into drafting legislations and tackling the nation’s most pressing issues. Technocrats also have the ability to better resolve the ongoing crisis given their expertise in their respective fields and ability to exploit their professional networks to stir solutions based on third party involvement and contribution. The educated businessman can indeed reach out to the business community and lay a framework for investment that is not tied to a certain political favoritism. The technocrat also, if drawn from the new school of business executives can take choices that lift the economy, education and health upwards regardless of the short-term discontent it creates. The technocrats in short do their job because they are cashing on managerial efficiency, not on political gaming.

Many see the necessity for well-established frameworks, figures and institutions as a pre requisite for state management, yet the importation of the business executives modus operandi to legislative decision making can prove to be a successful undertaking given its enormous impact on actually achieving results, regardless of the ethical reasoning one might have about its collaterals. What the Arab world needs right now are parachuted technocrats, business minded executives who will not stem from the political infertile cultivation fields, but from the likes of Harvard Business school or NYU stern.

What the people want and will always look for is not decent political etiquette, but rather palpable results that can ensure the growth of a prosperous middle class and thriving investment and entrepreneurial ecosystem, although both tend to converge at a certain point. Dubai is a good example of how business minded state management and state capitalism does lead to a prosperous society. Nothing ensures stability and socio economic development like beaming business confidence. If a country knows how to conduct business, then investments, international loans, deposits, economic growth and foreign currency reserves beautifully play along.

Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and hopefully Syria, when the massacre comes to an end, ought to follow the governance trend that is driving the developing world into a surge of growth and progress.

Politics today means business, and those who still want to run countries in the old fashioned way are doomed to a slow and painful death. The train of development doesn’t wait for political reform or ideological fights over power; neither does it choose which stations to stop at. The most critical part is that todays’ train is not the old steam powered vehicle of yesterday, but is a supersonic piece of engineering that cannot be caught up with if missed. What seems to be a right and virtuous struggle for political justice in various Arab countries is an economic suicide in the making, because if one cannot afford a job that puts a piece of bread on his table, little would he earn from going to the street protesting his right for political inclusion in the decision making. There is a moral in labor division, and that is efficiency. If we cannot let the people most qualified for a job take on their responsibilities, and attempt to indulge in fields we have no credentials for, then all we are doing is luring ourselves into a big deception. Stigmatizing technocrats as neo-oligarchs, heartless businessmen, financiers or top down executives is a hobby most of us are good at, but getting the job done is duty we fail at terrifically.

It is time for politics to be conducted like a business, not like a Machiavellian art of alchemy that needs not to be stained with modern world ways of operating. It is time for politicians in the Arab world to go out from their ivory towers and excel in public speaking, pitching, business planning, languages mastery and deals closing the same way their western counterparts are doing… Because those who write bills are Bain Capital, Exxon and JP Morgan, not some old Winston Churchill smoking a cigar and gazing at a massive globe next to his desk.

Mohamed Amine Belarbi

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