Group of 8 pledges billions in aid to Egypt and Tunisia

Leaders of the Group of 8 industrialized countries pledged on Friday to send at least $20 billion in aid to Egypt and Tunisia in a bid to strengthen the pro-democracy movements in those countries. where public uprisings ousted autocratic regimes this year.

 The G8 representatives expressed concern that the movements in Tunisia and Egypt, the originators of the so-called Arab Spring, might be derailed by Islamic extremists if the West didn't help modernize and stabilize their economies, the New York Times reported, citing unnamed diplomats involved in the talks.

Democracy, the leaders said, could be rooted only in economic reforms that would create open markets, equal opportunities and jobs to lower staggeringly high unemployment rates, especially among restless youths.

Bloomberg News reported that Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel urged speed in getting the aid flowing.

“What’s important now is to get the money to the people quickly,” Merkel told reporters in Deauville. The EU should set up “new, fast and efficient structures” to get the money to the people who needed it.

The official G8 communique promised $20 billion in aid, but French president Nicolas Sarkozy said he hoped that the total would be doubled ultimately. The money, which will be in the form of grants and loans, is being provided by multilateral institutions such as the World Bank, the IMF and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Guardian reported. The G8 members, which include France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain, Russia, Canada and the United States, said they would also seek pledges of financial support from Arab countries, the New York Times said.

According to the International Monetary Fund, which recently released a report on the transformations occurring in the Middle East and North Africa, the stability of the region depends directly on the creation of jobs, as well as a "fair and inclusive" economic model, US News and World Report said.

Concern about the future of the pro-democracy movement was apparent at the G8 summit, the New York Times said. Since the former Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, was ousted, money from tourism and foreign investment has fallen off sharply as food prices have soared and labor unrest has increased. In Tunisia, the revolution that ousted former President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, economic stagnation continues, tourism has also fallen off and people have become disillusioned about political change.