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Two perfect storms have struck the Arab world in the past decade. In 2011, in what was at first optimistically called “the Arab Spring,” popular uprisings unseated autocrats across the region. Hopes ran high that these peaceful protest movements would usher in a new era of democracy in the Middle East. But except in Tunisia, they ended in turmoil or deadly civil wars. Then, in 2014, the region’s leaders were dealt another blow when the price of oil plummeted, threatening the basic model of governance on which their power rested. Low oil prices since have made it difficult for regimes to fund bloated budgets, buy off elites, and hold up long-postponed reforms. This is not a temporary aberration: it is unlikely that the price of oil will ever again rise to its pre-2014 levels.
On the surface, many Arab states appear to have weathered these two storms—however shakily. But there