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What We Owe Egypt

What has transformed Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya over the last two years has not been efforts by the outside world to improve these societies or their economies, but grassroots social movements intent on changing their countries’ political systems. The least that outsiders can do, especially in Egypt, is to stop channeling foreign aid to the former oppressors.

CAMBRIDGE – The question that still underlies much thinking about economic development is this: What can we do to kick-start economic growth and reduce poverty around the world? The “we” is sometimes the World Bank, sometimes the United States and other rich countries, and sometimes professors of development economics and their students huddled in a seminar room. It is on this question that the entire development-aid complex is based.

But what has transformed Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya over the last two years has not been efforts by the outside world to improve these societies or their economies, but grassroots social movements intent on changing their countries’ political systems. It started in Tunisia, where the revolution swept President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s repressive regime out of power. It then spread to Egypt and Libya, ending Hosni Mubarak’s and Muammar el-Qaddafi’s even more repressive and corrupt regimes.

The people who poured into the streets and risked their lives were fed up with the repression and the poverty that these regimes caused. The average Egyptian’s income level, for example, is just 12% of the average American’s, and Egyptians can expect to die 10 years sooner. Fully 20% of the population lives in dire poverty.

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