The chill of spring

From Tunisia to Egypt, the Arab uprising is belying its promise and lurching towards socio-economic meltdown

Chill winds are blowing through the lands touched by the "Arab Spring". Hailed by many as the harbinger of a new era of Arab democracy, it has fulfilled, so far, few of those lofty expectations.

In Egypt, a resurgence of political turmoil, together with an ongoing socio-economic meltdown, is creating a widening gap between the challenges facing the government and its ability to meet them -- making a humanitarian catastrophe of staggering proportions an ever-more likely prospect. With foreign reserves dwindling rapidly and unrest, either raging or simmering across the country, driving off tourists and investors, the country's ability to procure vital imports is being tangibly imperilled. Although Egypt was teetering on the brink of political and societal collapse well before the advent of the "Arab Spring", the January 2011 revolution still marks a dramatic acceleration in the deterioration of the parameters of Egyptian society and the performance of its economy.

Mohammed Morsi's government is facing an impossible impasse. To qualify for much needed IMF assistance, it needs to undertake tough austerity measures. However, as much of Egypt's impoverished population is heavily dependent on government subsidies, it is difficult to see how he could undertake such measures, likely to inflame further violence, and risk losing even more support for his Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government. The eroding coherence and capability of the government in Cairo could have serious repercussions for Israel. For it undermines its ability to maintain any semblance of law-and-order in Sinai, which is descending into a lawless no-man's land, controlled by criminal gangs and jihadist warlords, able to threaten its long southern border and tourist hub of Eilat with increasing impunity. Clearly this could endanger the durability of the Egypt-Israel peace accord, a longstanding cornerstone of regional stability.

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