Sunday, June 29, 2008

Arab food crisis or Arab political crisis?

The Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut organized a small meeting on the food crisis in the Arab world. I have posted about it earlier, with a link to the main paper by Ibrahim Seif. Al-Akhbar covered the event and Hassan Shaqrani wrote about it yesterday. The first part of the Arabic article is about Seif's intervention, and the second, more interesting is by Lebanese economist Kamal Hamdan, who urges states and governments not only to support agriculture, but also to focus on strategic crops rather than on export crops. And he is right, but its a really long shot in Lebanon. Lebanon is based on maximizing profits in the shortest time possible, without paying any attention to what happens next. This is how politics are conducted, and this is how the economy has evolved. Both are unsustainable: look at the number of wars that have taken place. I believe that we cannot think strategically in any sector, and especially in agriculture without addressing the political framework all together. A few weeks ago I was on a TV show with Antoine Howayek who is trying to organize the sector and obtain some rights for farmers and farm workers. He said on the air that he was once told in private by a member of parliament: "Do you really think they will let you organize yourself? Tell me which politician is interested in seeing his or her constituency organized? Who is able to handle the emancipation of those who vote blindly in exchange for petty services?" (I am quoting this freely from memory).

This is why existing Arab governments cannot handle this or any other food crisis (and they are not trying to, believe me, they're making noises, subsidizing, impoverishing people further, and the oligarchy is trying to find out how it can squeeze more money out of the poor). They cannot handle them because what they are required to do would contradict the very essence of their existence. A basic law of systems is that no sub-system can grow independently of the larger systems that includes it.

No comments: