By Patrick Bond
(source: Rosa Luxemburg Foundation in Palestine – www.palestine.rosalux.org)
In their latest documents and meetings, the G8, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund reacted to the democratic movements in the Arab world: The recipe calls – as it did before the popular ousting of the Tunisian and Egyptian presidents – for privatization, austerity measures and “market liberation”.
An incident two and a half years ago in Carthage spoke volumes about power politics and economic ideology. As he was given the country’s main honour, the Order of the Tunisian Republic, on account of his “contribution to the reinforcement of economic development at the global level,” International Monetary Fund Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn returned the favour, offering the dictatorship of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali a warm embrace, which turned out to be the kiss of death.“
Economic policy adopted here is a sound policy and is the best model for many emerging countries,” said Strauss-Kahn. “Our discussions confirmed that we share many of the same views on Tunisia’s achievements and main challenges. Tunisia is making impressive progress in its reform agenda and its prospects are favorable.”
In late May 2011, just days after Strauss-Kahn resigned in disgrace after New York police charged him with sexual predation against an African hotel cleaning worker, the IMF outlined a new set of opportunities in Tunisia and neighboring countries: “The spark ignited by the death of Mohammed Bouazizi has irretrievably changed the future course of the countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). But each country will change in its own way and at its own speed. Nor will they necessarily have a common political or economic model when they reach their destination.”
In reality, ‘the model’ for each is indeed ‘common’ in Washington’s eyes: neoliberalism.
And moreover, there appears to be very little difference in what is being advocated to Arab democrats today and what was advocated to Arab dictators yesterday. For in September 2010, IMF Survey Magazine praised Ben Ali for his commitment “to reduce tax rates on businesses and to offset those reductions by increasing the standard Value Added Tax (VAT)rate.”
Mohammed Bouazizi was an informal street trader, and thepolice overturned his fruit cart a few weeks later, on December 27, presumably because he was not contributing to Value Added Tax with his survivalist business. (There may have been other reasons, but this is typically the rationale offered by authorities for disrupting street traders across the world.)
If the IMF leadership praised the dictatorship, insisted on austerity and advocated squeezing poor people for more taxes, what business does it have today in giving similar advice to Tunisia, or anywhere in the Middle East and North Africa, or for that matter Europe or anywhere at all? What can we learn about IMF thinking in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, as well as Palestine?