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.

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Women economic empowerment in the MENA region

This post was written by Hoda El Enbaby (Researcher at ERF)

Data shows that women make up 70% of the world’s poor. They do not get the same opportunities as men, and get less pay for the same amount of work. In Egypt for instance, female unemployment is four times more than male unemployment. The reasons behind these facts remain to be unclear.  Are women unprivileged in our societies just because of their gender? To what extent are women disadvantaged? Do men and women have the same economic opportunities or get the same chances? Has the Arab Spring worsened or improved women’s status in the region?  In order to answer some of these questions and fill the research gap in this topic, the Economic Research Forum (ERF) carried out a call for proposals on “Women economic empowerment in the MENA region“, with the support of the International Development Research Center (IDRC). Under this call, ERF has selected seven proposals tackling various areas of the topic.

The authors of those papers will be given the opportunity to present their first drafts during an ERF workshop that will be held tomorrow, November 29th, at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). Believing in the importance of women’s empowerment in the MENA region, the LSE’s Middle East Centre will be hosting the workshop, giving the authors the chance to discuss their findings with experts in the area and to receive feedback on  their studies.

This workshop marks the first ERF workshop to be held in London. It is meant to be the beginning of cross-regional social debate regarding gender issues and the economic empowerment of women.

Stay tuned for more posts from this workshop!

Socio-economic policies and the efficiency of democratic reforms

This post was written by Kaouthar Gazdar (PhD in Economics, University of Sousse), Hajer Kratou (PhD student in Economics, University of Carthage & University of Auvergne) & Zeinab Sabet (GDNet)

The fourth and last session of the workshop’s first day had a special focus on economic and social policies, and the efficiency of democratic reforms.

Eberhard Kienle (CNRS Paris/IEP Grenoble)

Eberhard Kienle (CNRS Paris/IEP Grenoble)

The session introduced two papers by Eberhard Kienle (CNRS Paris/IEP Grenoble) and Pierre-Guillaume Méon (Université Libre de Bruxelles). In his paper, Kienle examines the economic and social policies in Tunisia and Egypt in the aftermath of authoritarianism. Despite the intricacy of the Arab spring, it seems fair the assumption that large scale popular protests and the related transformation of political regimes were prompted by a combination of socio-economic and political factors. In a nutshell, authoritarian government had over years and decades prevented numerous actors to articulate their grievances in ways that would have allowed alleviating and addressing them effectively. Many of these grievances were related to socio- economic developments that widened the gap between income and opportunities on the one hand; and expectations based on past experience, official propaganda and comparisons with the outside world on the other.

Kienle challenges the idea according to which democratic regimes guarantee that such potential is actually translated into practice. In fact, and alike authoritarian regimes, democracies may fail to meet the expectations of the ruled. Less repressive by nature, they may even be challenged more quickly and more easily than their authoritarian predecessors or counterparts. According to him, the most important challenge for elected rulers in Tunisia and Egypt, besides the establishment and consolidation of democratic rules, is the formulation and implementation of economic and social policies that avoid past errors, and improve or secure the welfare of all within a broadly accepted framework of social justice.

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The political economy of transformation in the Arab region: Between cronyism and dualism

This post was written by Kaouthar Gazdar (PhD in Economics, University of Sousse) & Hajer Kratou (PhD student in Economics, University of Carthage & University of Auvergne)

The second session of the ERF workshop on “The political economy of transformation in the ERF region” introduced two important papers by Ishaq Diwan (Harvard Kennedy School) and Ragui Assaad (University of Minnesota, USA).

Entitled “Crony capitalism in Egypt”, Diwan’s study analyzes the nature and extent of Egyptian “crony” capitalism by comparing the corporate performance and the stock market valuation of politically connected and unconnected firms, before and after the 2011 popular uprising that led to the end of President Mubarak 30 years rule.

Ishac Diwan (Harvard Kennedy School, USA)

Ishac Diwan (Harvard Kennedy School, USA)

By looking closely at capitalism in Egypt, the paper is an attempt to understand why Arab capitalism has not been very dynamic; in other words the reasons behind the low performance and innovation of firms.

Diwan addresses the question of corruption in Egypt while analyzing the performance of politically connected firms which benefited from facilities regulations, government contracts, licenses access, protection from foreign and domestic competitions, as well as from subsidies energy under the Mubarak regime. “Egypt could have performed much better in terms of economic growth and job creation if the privilegies and exclusions were not as much”, he stated.

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A time to throw stones, a time to reap: How long does it take for democratic reforms to improve institutional outcomes?

This post was written by Pierre-Guillaume Méon & Khalid SekkatCentre Emile Bernheim Université libre de Bruxelles (U.L.B.), on their ongoing research “A time to throw stones, a time to reap: How long does it take for democratic reforms to improve institutional outcomes?

Pierre-Guillaume Méon (Université Libre de Bruxelles)

Pierre-Guillaume Méon (Université Libre de Bruxelles)

Democracy, institutions and growth
The Arab Spring by ousting authoritarian regimes raises hopes and expectations of better wealth and inclusiveness. Scientific analyses show, however, that democratization alone does not guarantee economic success. The better quality of institutions that is expected to follow democratization would improve economic performance, inclusiveness and effective accountability of rulers. While the outcome of the process started by the Arab Spring is still uncertain, studying other processes of democratization around the world may shed light on its potential impact on the quality of institutions in Arab countries.

A number of breaking path researches (e.g. Barro, 1991 and 1996 and La Porta et al., 1999) has shown that democracy does not guarantee economic success. At the same time, however, a flurry of studies established the importance of the quality of institutions for growth and development (Keefer, 1993 and Mauro, 1993). The relation is not simply a temporal or spatial correlation but reflects a causal linkage running from the quality of institutions to growth and development (Hall and Jones, 1999 and Acemoglu et al., 2001).

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Democratization in the Arab region: The role of geopolitics and origins of political change

ERF’s workshop and policy seminar on “The political economy of transformation in the ERF region” kicked off with its first session dedicated to discuss the rise and fall of representative political institutions in the region on the one hand, and the factors that brought about political and economic change in the region on the other.

In his presentation, Sami Atallah (Lebanese Center for Policy Studies) shed the light on the importance of historical geostrategic routes from India to England and how it affected the rise of contemporary political institutions in the Middle East. According to him, a glimpse at the countries on the geostrategic route, and their comparison to the rest of the world (except Europe and North and South America), shows how countries on the route are more authoritarian than other countries which are not geographically on the route. By going back to history, in 1798 when Napoleon invaded Egypt, Sami argues that British interference in the political institutions, which derived from their need to secure trade, was detrimental to the evolution of political representative institutions in the region. As a matter of example, the British intervention to remove the Consultative Council in Egypt in 1866 or to prevent the creation of a Consultative Council in Dubai in 1930 affected the rise and evolution of political representative institutions in both countries. Introducing democratic institutions in such countries, which are on the geostrategic route, was much harder in the aftermath of their independence.

Read the paper “Connecting England to India: How Geostrategic Routes Shaped Political Institutions in the Middle East

Watch our interview with Sami Atallah

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The political economy of transformation in the Arab region

Almost three years after the Arab spring uprisings kicked off in Tunisia in late 2010, the Arab region’s politico-economic transition remains complex. Although some uprisings have succeeded in bringing down regimes when others were the source of mass violence and violations, their economic and political outcomes are still unclear. Political and economic transformations are interacting more than ever before throughout the region’s transition. But the question is what kind of economic and political outcomes are being produced?

In an attempt to provide a better understanding of the impact of recent political changes on the economy of the region, the Economic Research Forum (ERF) launched a call for papers under the research theme of “Political Economy of Transformation in the Arab World”. 6 out of 16 research proposals were selected under this competition and following a peer-review process.

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Human rights, citizenship and the Arab spring

“Human rights” in the Middle East is a very problematic issue. However, the state of human rights differs from one state to another. Some states within the region do have a record of progressive understanding of human rights and its implementations as the case of Jordan, Bahrain and Morocco.

On the other hand, there are some states within the region that do encounter grave violations due to authoritarian regimes and repressive measures that led to diminished social activism within the society.

Flickr User: Essam Sharaf (CC)

In 2010, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region witnessed unprecedented waves of protests; commonly referred to as the “Arab Spring”. The chain reaction of such a phenomena demanded thorough socio-economic change and in-depth political transformation. People in many countries of the region called for respect for their human rights, an end to repression, new social contract built on representation and Citizenship rights.

Citizenship within the state was always a controversial issue, in terms of citizens and citizenship concept as stated by Aristotle, “a citizenship is one who shares both shares in the government and also in his turn submits to be governed; their condition, it is true, is different in different states; the best is that in which a man is enabled to choose and to persevere in a course of virtue during his whole life, both in his public and private state”.

This in return would clarify two main aspects of citizenship. The first of which would be a “legal” definition establishing what would be called a formal relationship between the people vis-a-vis the government and secondly that role a person has to play in a certain manner that entails virtue. Furthermore, this conceptualization of citizenship entails distinguishing between what would be considered as public and private spheres that touches on the dichotomy of state and civil society.

Ideas of citizenship are thus derived from the theoretical framework of liberalism. In the political form of liberal theory, it ascribes to individual’s power in their own lives and an equal say in how the government is run.

The impoverished societies of the Middle East need more plurality in terms of ideas, less repression of peaceful dissent, more political participation, and more institutions that would in a way channel popular desire for change, and for a better future. This poses serious complexities when coming to think of it in the context of the MENA region. States within the MENA region are deformed since inception, fragmented, and carry a colonial heritage and colonial political institutions; states that deal with citizens as subjects, and carry among them the traits of authoritarianism.

I do believe that governments within the region for sure have roles to play in terms of negating some paranoid and prejudiced beliefs within the society. Education along with social activism would surely allow for a better perception of what has to be a relation between all citizens within the state.



Les défis de la transition démocratique en Tunisie

Prof. Moez Labidi, Professeur d’Economie a l’Université de Monastir en Tunisie, était l’un de nos invités au séminaire politique « The Road to Democracy : the Arab Region, Latin America and Eastern Europe ». Lors de son exposé, Moez Labidi  a présenté les facteurs ayant été à l’origine de la révolution tunisienne. Il a également relevé les différents défis et obstacles ralentissant le processus de la transition démocratique, parmi lesquels figurent la lutte contre le chômage, la liquidité sur le secteur bancaire et le financement extérieur.

Regardez notre entretien avec Moez Labidi

“The Road to Democracy: The Arab Region, Latin America and Eastern Europe”

The GDN-AUB Panel Discussion on « The Road to Democracy : the Arab Region, Latin America and Eastern Europe » took place today afternoon at the Campus of the American University in Beirut (AUB), Lebanon.  Gathering speakers from the three regions, the panel assessed the prospects for democratic transition in the Arab region in light of the lessons to be learnt from the recent uprisings, with a special focus on Egypt and Tunisia and against the experience of democratic transformation in Latin America and Eastern Europe.

Prof. Samir Makdisi - AUB

Prof. Samir Makdisi – AUB

In his opening remarks, Samir Makdisi, Professor Emeritus of Economics at AUB, expressed his belief that democratic values are universal values that cut across regions regardless of the uniqueness of each of the three regions’ historical experience. While the issues and concerns of democratic transitions of each of the three regions may differ substantially, the aspirations of their peoples for freedom, democracy, equity and public sector accountability remain common. It is in this sense that the struggle for democracy binds them together.

Following the welcome remarks by Dr. Ahmad Dallal, AUB’s Provost and Dr. Gerardo della Paolera, GDN President, the floor was given to the panelists who orchestrated an interesting exchange of the three regions’ experiences.

Prof. Moez Labidi (University of Monastir) & Prof. Boris Vujcie (Croatia National Bank & GDN Board of Directors)

Prof. Moez Labidi (University of Monastir) & Prof. Boris Vujcie (Croatia National Bank & GDN Board of Directors)

In his presentation, Prof. Boris Vujcic, Deputy Governor, Croatia National Bank and GDN Board of Directors, shared the Eastern European experience with a focus on Croatia. He stressed on transitional justice and good governance being vital for the people’s trust in the new structure, as well as for the universal confidence in the country. In light of the current developments in Egypt, he stated that a new constitution is essential for the democratic transition of each country. As for the economic dimension, “one size does not fit all” he stated, “every country has to find its own path over the market economy”.

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