Middle East Notes and Comment: Taking it to the Streets
October 24, 2007
The age of bread riots in the Middle East may be over. With each passing year, people in the Middle East seem to expect less and less from their governments. The governments, for their part, seem to be encouraging the trend.
For decades in the Middle East, governments fed their publics a steady diet of populist rhetoric and subsidies. Now, the governments are betting that they do not need to control local economies to prove their relevance or win the loyalty of their subjects. Moving away from subsidies on staples such as bread, rice, sugar, and cooking oil liberates regional governments from millions—or billions—of dollars in expenses every year. Still, the potential challenges are clear. Other organizations may step in and provide services the government no longer does, creating loyalties that undermine government control rather than extend it.
More worrisome for the government, citizens may become not merely passive but actively hostile to governments that do not provide for them. So far, though, the governments’ bet seems to be paying off.