Arab Spring & Food Scarcity Conference

by Heather R Morgan on June 11, 2012

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I’ve been working on this economic research on food security issues in the Middle East for months now for a world food security conference in Cornell this month, which I will not be attending. It has been very interesting research, involving the investigation into the role food security plays in sociopolitical stability in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region.  I have learned many more things about Egypt and Tunisia in terms of economics, politics, and social issues.

At the same time, it has been fascinating living here in Egypt while I have been conducting my research, and I feel quite enlightened by the whole process.  However, I have some things I must conclude from the whole experience.

1. Food security IS a serious issue in the Middle East, some countries more than others, especially in the Long Run, in terms of reliance on food imports (cereals in particular)

2. Issues of sustainability are incredibly significant in the MENA region in terms of food security

3. While I believe food security played a role in the the sociopolitical stability in the Middle East, I do not believe this was the chief cause of the revolutions.  I believe that crony capitalism, corruption and injustice, lack of political freedoms, and youth unemployment played much bigger roles in the countries in question (Tunisia and Egypt specifically). While these issues are interlinked, as crony capitalism and corruption can play a major role in food security, I do not think that you can necessarily assert that the revolution was actually the result of food insecurity.  It was an issue, but one of many.

4. Corruption and crony capitalism are common trends in the MENA region, ingrained in many levels of government and business, and have become a general learned part of culture. In order to succeed, one must know how to play the game and have the right connections.

5. The strong linkage between the state and businesses has fostered a system highly reliant on state aid, allowing the private sector to remain widely inefficient.  There is a lack of serious competition in many industries, and the private sector cannot create enough jobs for the youth bulge that is occurring.

6. Youth unemployment, especially the unemployment of educated youth, plays a major role in social unrest in MENA, especially those who do not feel they have a “fair shot.”

7. Many MENA states are heavily reliant on state-created jobs and subsidies to keep sociopolitical unrest under control. Rather than looking for long term solutions, bandaid solutions that offer short term fixes are often preferred.

So those are my main points and thoughts for the moment… more to come.

By economist & writer, Heather R Morgan (@HeatherReyhan)