Day III of ERF 20th Annual Conference: Emerging lessons from Arab countries in transition

The third and final day of the ERF 20th Annual Conference started with discussions around lessons emerging from the experience of Arab countries in transition. Chaired by Noha El-Mikawy (Ford Foundation), plenary session 3 gathered a number of distinguished economists: Gouda Abdel-Khalek (Cairo University); Georges Corm (Georges Corm Consulting Office); Paul Salem (Middle East Institute); and Zafiris Tzannatos (International Labor Organization).


In his presentation on ‘Social Justice: lessons of experience for Egypt‘, Gouda Abdel-Khalek (Cairo University) examined the meaning behind ‘bread, freedom and social justice’, which became the main slogan of the uprising in Egypt. He discussed how tricky it is to establish social justice in times of political unrest. To support his argument, Abdel-Khalek referred to social injustice indicators that Egyptian society has been witnessing since January 25th, including decreasing wage share to GDP, rising unemployment (youth unemployment over 30%), rising poverty, increasing urban/rural divide, poor access to water and child undernutrition. It seems very little has been done to achieve the slogan of the revolution; therefore, Abdel-Khalek stressed on the need for reforms touching upon taxation systems and subsidizing agricultural producers.

Read more on ERF blog

Paul Salem discussed MENA transitions and the need for new social contracts. In his presentation ‘Situating Social Justice within the Broader Context of MENA transitions’, Salem argued that political transitions aren’t always towards democracy. The proof being what happened in the Arab world in the aftermath of political uprisings. According to him, transition sometimes can mean transition to state failure or autocracy; in which case it becomes almost impossible to establish foundations for social justice. Although Arab uprisings initially called for ‘bread, freedom and social justice’, limited effort was deployed to meet people’s needs and demands. Salem argues that Arab uprisings lacked a vision of a new social contract.

Read more on ERF blog

‘What happened to the region? Why is the Arab world today totally outside of the emerging markets, and what are the reasons for this failure?’ wondered Georges Corm in his presentation. Corm links the stagnation of an economy to the lack of mobilization of its human resources. He compared Egypt to Japan; both countries having divergent developmental trajectories although Japan witnessed industrialization half a century after Egypt. According to Corm, Japan’s success is due to its preparation of the rural workforce to transit progressively to urban towns and contribute in industry; social protection was provided by conglomerates to workers and their families. It is the government’s duty to address social justice. Talking about Egypt, Corm highlighted the issue of talent and skill migration, which represents a significant financial loss for the country.

Watch video interview with Georges Corm

Read more on ERF blog

In his presentation ‘Arab youth in the labor market: Mismeasured, misunderstood and mistreated’, Zafris Tzannatos he presents unemployment as one of the main reasons behind social injustice. He accuses the Arab leaders of not being since in addressing job creation as a pathway to establish social justice. According to Tzannatos, bad politics, including denationalization and wage share decline, lead to bad economics. Moreover, Tzannatos argued that the brain drain of educated youth that the Arab world witnessed proves the low demand for high skills.

Watch video interview with Zafris Tzannatos

Read more on ERF blog

Wrapping up, the third and final of the ERF 20th Annual Conference concluded with the Awards ceremony and closing.

For more stories, visit the ERF blog and youtube channel conference playlist.
Also if you’ve missed the first two days of the conference, catch up on the first one in this post; and read about the second here.

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