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The Arab World and the Struggle Against Austerity

Photo by Funk Dooby | CC BY 2.0

For five days, Jordanians took to the streets to protests measures by the government to increase taxes. Demonstrators also demanded access and improvements to city services, the lack of which compounds the high rate of unemployment to which Jordan’s population is subjected. In the largest protests the country has seen since 2011, Jordanians unseated prime minister Hani Mulki in a matter of days due to popular discontent with staggering austerity, issues with affordability, and poverty.

The protests launched after May 30, following the announcement of International Monetary Fund measures which included a new income-based tax draft law that also saw a sharp tax increase that aggravated the widely unemployed and underemployed country.

In 2016, the IMF put $723 million into the country to lower debt and enhance equitable growth, yet the inflows have only supported the country’s staggering debt austerity, toppling at 35 billion. Jordan joined five other Arab countries in August of 2016 approving IMF loans, with Egypt, Iraq, Morocco, Tunisia, and Yemen also taking on the loans, austerity agreements with impacts detrimental to social programs, and especially antagonistic to populations already suffering from the devastation wrought by imperialist warfare, high unemployment, and rampant corruption.

Jordan joins its Arab neighbors in being beholden to the debt trap of finance capital, where capitalism and cronyism by governments and institutions prove themselves accountable to none other than international banks and the bankrollers that buy their way into reinforcing economic and political dominion over the countries and their self-determination.

All over the Arab world, nations continue to be destabilized by the effects of capitalism, where economic austerity helps fuel social and political instability. In Lebanon, the debt-to-GDP ratio is the highest in the middle east and third highest in the world at 148, a legacy of finance inflows that make their way into the pockets of bourgeois party elites and the 1992 post-war Taif agreement–a post civil war decree signed in Saudi Arabia that instituted sectarianism and reinforced the colonial French legacy of divide and conquer. As a result, Lebanon remains without decent infrastructure, yet is a favorite of the World Bank and European Union for its continuous acceptance of loans for unsuccessful public-private infrastructure ventures.

Egypt too is no stranger to austerity, with its own share of IMF loans triggering austerity squeezes, including slashing food and fuel subsidies amid stagnant pay and high poverty. Tunisia saw 1,000 young protesters get arrested in January after a month of protests against austerity and unemployment seven years after mass demonstrations toppled dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. And the Ansarullah in Yemen cornered Hadi into exile in 2014 for his compliance in enforcing IMF-style austerity in impoverished Yemen, where such neoliberal policies had continued to rob citizens and extort any semblance of civil services from the people.

Arab and Muslim governments that don’t neatly comply with international banks are met with hostility. Though Syria was pressured to adopt neoliberal economic policies over the past few decades, financial policies which failed to assist its large agricultural sector struggling from the after-effects of a 5-year drought, Syria’s refusal to take on IMF loans and relative independence from foreign debt have made it the target of finance capitalist institutions and US-NATO aggression. In Libya, its state owned bank, nationalization of the economy and plans to implement a pan-African gold standard led to a violent NATO-led toppling of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Between lavish Gulf and the impoverished nations in the Levant and North Africa, income inequality dominates the Middle East, representing the highest disparity seen in any region in the world. The top 10% holds over 61% of the region’s wealth, in comparison to the top tenth holding 47% of regional wealth in the US and Canada. And wealth inequality across Arab nations also replicates the class divides within their respective societies. As GCC nations rack up wealth, claiming nearly 50% of the regions income despite having only 15% of the Arab world’s population, an ascension of instability and unrest quells against reactionary regimes.

The increasingly apparent alliance between the GCC nations and Israel, Britain and the US’s longtime settler colonial outpost in the middle east, exemplify the steadfast commitment to reinforcement of economic and political hegemony. With relations openly warm between America’s two closest middle east allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia–also Britain’s original neo-colonies–their camaraderie over military aggression and genocide continues to be the source of austerity in the US and amongst the peoples and lands of Palestine and Yemen that are kept brutally impoverished and underdeveloped. Worldwide, austerity policies are inextricable from the war economy that is their main culprit.

In the throes of imperialism Western-backed monarchs were placed to guard artificially carved up states, ensuring that the tools of sectarianism and neocolonial governance would safeguard wealth. Today, this status quo is sustained, yet faces an unprecedented threat from masses that reject its murderous consensus on the sovereignty of working people worldwide. In the US, warmongering has witnessed the crumbling of its infrastructure abroad and institutions as it has worked to help tear down that other countries’. It is up to the working people across hemispheres to resist all economies that earn their living off the resignation of us all to death and destruction.

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Julia Kassem is an organizer with USPCN Detroit.

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