A whole new worldFollowing the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, Egypt has also turned the corner in a huge wave of democratization. We hope that the remarkable achievements in both countries will lead to the establishment of governments “of the people, by the people and for the people” through free and fair elections.
The democratic movement is on the verge of spreading to their neighbors like Algeria and Yemen. President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has reigned over Yemen for 33 years, and President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has been ruling Algeria under a state of emergency since 1992, are all under pressure to step down. Protests for democracy are even spreading to nearby monarchy states like Jordan and Bahrain, reminiscent of the gargantuan democracy wave in Eastern Europe in the 1980s. Although it is difficult to foresee how fast it will proceed, the move seems almost unstoppable now.
Such dramatic changes will bring about corresponding changes in international politics, diplomacy and economics. Major powers, including the U.S., pursued policies to keep political stability rather than promote democratization in the area. But this political upheaval will not allow them to follow that same track. The changes also call for adjustment in our Middle East policy.
So far our Middle East policy has been mostly focused on how to expand bilateral economic relationships. For example, thanks to the huge amount of hard currency we earned off the Middle East construction boom in the 1970s, we could lay the foundation for our economic growth - and the trend still continues.
However, our political and diplomatic relations with countries in the Middle East have been much weaker than economic ones. The colossal change in the Arab world presents us with a daunting challenge - and opportunities as well - in the political, diplomatic and economic fields.
Our economic relations with Middle East countries have been centered on consolidating our relationships with the regimes in power. Last year our companies had $40 billion dollars in trade with those countries, but the portion they made on a civilian basis is almost zero because of Arab governments’ omnipotent control of industrial policies.
As the democratic movements will inevitably lead to the privatization of economic power, our government should widen its focus to cover political, economic, diplomatic and cultural fields as well.