At G8, Obama Pushes For Aid To Egypt, Tunisia
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President Obama and the other leaders of the world's big economies wrapped up their summit in France today. The G8 focused on more aid, billions of dollars of it, to promote democracy in the Middle East.
The summit included officials from two Arab states with much smaller and more vulnerable economies, Egypt and Tunisia. Those countries ousted autocratic leaders earlier this year.
As NPR's Scott Horsley reports, President Obama is pushing for more aid to nurture change in the Arab world.
SCOTT HORSLEY: President Obama has said the popular uprisings in the Middle East are only partly about politics. They also reflect a growing frustration with a lack of economic opportunity. Four million young people in the region enter the labor force every year, and too many of them many can't find jobs.
David Lipton, who advises the president on international economics, says in order for new democratic governments to flourish in the region, the people of Egypt and Tunisia will have to feel better off. That means more job prospects, more food on the table, and more hope.
Mr. DAVID LIPTON (Presidential Adviser): We believe these two pillars go hand in hand. Without economic modernization it will be very hard for governments trying to democratize to show people that democracy delivers.
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama believes that's where some of the world's biggest economies can help, including members of the G8.
Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes says history shows that countries where people enjoy growing prosperity are almost always more successful at making the transition to democracy.
Mr. BEN RHODES (Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communication): We believe that this is a fundamental pillar of how you support that democratic success. Because statements are important, diplomacy is important, but in the long run, democracy has to have concrete benefits for people. And this is the clearest way to ensure that those concrete benefits follow from democratic transition.
HORSLEY: President Obama has already pledged several billion dollars worth of U.S. aid to the Middle East, in the form of loan guarantees and debt forgiveness. The European Union has also promised to contribute. And economic advisor Lipton says institutions like the IMF are also likely to play a role.
Mr. LIPTON: We expect that in the course of this weekend, that the Europeans will answer the call that the president has made for others to join us in helping the region.
HORSLEY: Lipton says before the uprisings, Egypt and Tunisia had growing economies, even if the wealth was not widely shared. In the wake of the political turmoil, the countries need immediate help to stabilize their economies, but over the longer term they'll need more. Take away oil and the 400 million people in the Middle East export only about as much as Switzerland. Lipton says that leaves plenty of potential to increase sales.
Mr. LIPTON: Getting Europe on board with this approach is extremely important because of the proximity of the region to Europe. Europe is a very natural trade partner for the countries in North Africa.
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama has likened the changes now sweeping the Middle East to what happened in Eastern Europe after the Berlin Wall fell. As former East Bloc countries made that transformation, they also benefitted from economic assistance.
Janusz Bugajski of the Center for Strategic and International Studies notes Mr. Obama will meet with some of those successful eastern European leaders when he travels to Poland later today.
Mr. JANUSZ BUGAJSKI (Center for Strategic International Studies): I think Obama wants to highlight Central East Europe as an example of a successful transition from authoritarianism to democracy, and the benefits that go along with such a transition. In other words, the message is intended not only for the rest of the post-communist world, where the progress has been uneven, but also for the Middle East and North Africa.
HORSLEY: Bugajski notes some veteran reformers from countries like Poland and Romania have already traveled to Cairo and Tunis, offering advice to democratic activists there on the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
Scott Horsley, NPR News, at the G8 summit in Deauville, France.
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