Arab Spring

A barren tree, once full of life
Stands leafless, brown ice in gloom
A barren tree, once full of strife
Stands not a spark, not a flower in bloom
A barren tree, once full of promise
Stands in sorrow, a promise but for tomorrow
As for today, not a leaf dares there stay

Thursday, December 01, 2005

French Arabs: France’s Saving Grace?

It has been common knowledge for sometime now that the French socialist model has failed its citizens. This is not only the case in France but a problem in much of continental Europe where socialist policies to protect workers against opportunistic capitalist corporations and provide basic services such as education and healthcare to the public have stifled competition and resulted in a rigid, inflexible bureaucracy. This rigidity, in turn, makes it very hard for European countries to compete on a global scale, although, one can argue the humanitarian aspect of such a system when compared to its American “do or die” counterpart, where many do but still die anyway. However, whatever changes Europeans need to make, it is obvious they will have to commence this painful exercise of economic liberalization very soon. As stated earlier, everyone knew that the French model was sinking, but what no one expected was how volatile it made the situation in France, until the 2005 French riots. Young French men, first and second generation African and Arab, have rioted for more than two weeks now, protesting France’s economic stagnation, lack of jobs and discrimination. Discrimination maybe the biggest challenge to the French who have not redefined themselves since the Gauls roamed France before the invasion of the Romans: “…nos ancetres, les gaulois….” French Arabs and Africans think they are French but the public and the private sector don’t seem to think so. A study found that resumes sent out with French names, rather than Arab names, were 50 times more likely to be offered a job. But the discrimination is not the whole story. There is a real debate throughout Europe about the direction of the European Union and whether it should adopt the French and German socialist models or steer towards a British and American free market economy. This debate, perhaps, was one of the main reasons that the French and Dutch voters rejected the constitution in the spring of 2005. Another problem with the socialist model is the excessive protectionism on everything from agriculture to manufacturers, although no country, including the United States, is innocent of that. The penchant for protectionism combined with a rigid bureaucracy, high corporate and income tax, highly organized and protectionist labor unions leads to an inefficient economy that is not readily capable of changing course as needed which in turn results in the high unemployment and the economic stagnation that we see in much of Europe today. The French, as do the rest of Europeans, have a simple choice to make now: Push on with the painful changes from the top or wait for a much more painful socio-economic eruption from below.


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