An Arab Marshall Plan?

Saudi staff members stand in front of the conference center where a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council Foreign Ministers is held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Kai Ryssdal: The United Nations Security Council is set to take up a resolution on Libya later today. The language is pretty broad. It authorizes all necessary measures against Libya, which is generally being understood to include a no-fly zone.

Earlier today the Security Council also asked Arab countries to pitch in financially. There's a huge amount of rebuilding to be done across the Middle East -- both physical and economic. Unemployment is high. Wages are low. Basic institutions are broken. There's a move afoot to launch a broad program of new investment in the region. It worked once -- a long time ago -- in Europe.

From London, Marketplace's Stephen Beard reports.


Stephen Beard: Protesters outside the Bahrain Embassy call for the end of autocratic regimes. But if democracy is to flourish in the Arab world the region needs to do far more than topple a few dictators.

Jawad Anani: We should be building better education, you know. Finding jobs, building infrastructures, for instance: railroads, electricity, water.

Jawad Anani is a former deputy prime minister of Jordan. He says many Arab countries have been crippled by corruption and plundered by self-serving elites. A major program of economic regeneration is needed.

Anani: We should come to an international agreement that includes the European Union, most important, and the United States. We should develop a Marshall Plan for the region.

"In the Mood" by Glen Miller

Now that takes us right back to the 1940's when the U.S. launched the Marshall Plan, pumping today's equivalent of around $100 billion into war-shattered Europe as this newsreel of the day proudly proclaimed:

Newsreel: We have given much aid to the impoverished peoples of Europe on simple humanitarian grounds.

It was, in fact, a mixture of American generosity and self-interest. Yes, it helped the Europeans get back on their feet, but it also created a bigger market for American goods. Sixty years on, something similar is now needed in the Middle East, so say the German and Italian foreign ministers.

George Joffe of Cambridge University agrees.

George Joffe: Some kind of generic, state-directed investment plan is going to be necessary for the region.

But, he says, there's a problem.

Joffe: I doubt whether the developed world is prepared to accept it.

Because the U.S. -- and Europe come to that -- are broke.

Joffe: European states aren't going to provide the funding. I doubt very much whether the United States will provide the funding either.

But other experts on the region say the Arab world doesn't need the help of the West. It can go it alone.

Abdel Bari Atwan: We don't need a Marshall Plan because we already got the money.

Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of the London-based Pan-Arab newspaper Al-Quds.

Atwan: We have the wealth, we have the money, we have the oil.

Well to be more precise, Saudi Arabia and other states in the Persian Gulf have most of the region's oil. They pump roughly 30 percent of the world's supply. Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Syria are not so blessed. Will the Saudis be prepared to share their bounty?

Atwan: Saudi Arabia is obliged to invest in Egypt, in Yemen, in Syria in order to create better atmosphere in the region. It cannot sit on sovereign fund with $200 billion when, for example, there are people starving in Jordan or starving in Yemen.

In 1947, when U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall launched his aid plan, he urged America to face up to what he called its "vast responsibility."

George Marshall: This unprecedented endeavor of the New World to help the Old is neither sure nor easy. But there is no doubt whatever in my mind that if we decide to do this thing we can do it successfully.

The U.S. responded to that rallying call in 1947. Will Saudi Arabia do the same in 2011?

In London, I'm Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

About the author

Stephen Beard is the European bureau chief and provides daily coverage of Europe’s business and economic developments for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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