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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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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Islamism and Islamist Movement into a Historical Perspective

(This is a cross-post based on a blog post, “Islamism and Islamist Movement into a Historical Perspective“, published on the ERF Blog by Zeinab Sabet, Research Communication Capacity Building Manager at GDNet. The post is based on video from the first plenary session at the 2013 ERF Annual Conference, speaker Jean-Philippe Platteau, (University of Namur and University of Oxford), addressed the origins and roles of Islamist movements)

Mosquee by Huge Hugo, on Flickr (CC)

Mosquee by Huge Hugo, on Flickr (CC)

Islamism is an ideology that guides people’s daily social, political and personal lives based on the Islam religion. After the recent uprisings in the MENA region, Islamism has become a dominating governing body in the Arab World. In a paper titled The Roots of Islamic Movements in the Muslim World, the author discusses how recent Islamic movements are a way in which Muslim countries are trying to get rid of western ways that they believe do not alleviate exploitation, poverty and social injustice, in order to create their own system based on their religious values.

In an interview with Jean-Philippe Platteau, (University of Namur and University of Oxford), at the 2013 ERF Annual Conference, he addresses the origins and roles of these Islamist movements. According to him, a glimpse into the historical perspective is essential in order to assess Islamism, the emergence of Islamist movements, their role and their future.

Platteau states that three main aspects characterize Islamist movements. Looking at the definition of a reformist movement, the scripturalist approach to the holy text seems to be the major landmark; there is no freedom in text interpretation. The second characteristic is the puritanical dimension, or the idea that a moral decline is the source of social disorder. Thirdly discussed is the millenarian and messianic aspect of being the source of a big change in the society bringing happiness and harmony to the society.

Taking a glimpse into Islamic history, one realizes that many of puritanical movements have arisen in attempts to consolidate power, to unify territories or to build-up nations. A modern example proving this point is Saudi Arabia, united by the Wahhabi puritanical ideology.

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Economic Development and the Rise of Islamist Parties

(This is a cross-post based on a blog published by Salma el Meliegy ,  Communications Assistant at ERF )

The political upheavals, which swept the Arab World in early 2011 ushered in Islamist political parties in Egypt, Tunisia, and potentially elsewhere in the region. The rise of political Islam in the Middle East is contended by some to be the consequence of multidimensional crises experienced by the region. Economists and political analysts argue that some of these explanations may include failed economic policies, widespread authoritarianism, increasing unemployment, corruption and rapid urbanization.

The Rise of Political Islam

19th annual conference: The rise of political Islam

Economic Research Forum’s (ERF) 19th annual upcoming conference on ‘Economic Development and the Rise of Islamist Parties’ aims to these issues and the main economic policies aims to understand the causes behind the rise of Islamist parties, the conditions under which they succeed and the likely outcome in Arab Spring countries. The conference, to be held March 3-5th 2013, will be hosted by the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development (AFESD) in Kuwait.

Don’t miss any discussions and stay up to date with conference proceedings and messages. The conference will be covered using social media by a dedicated team. Follow the ERF and GDNet blogs for posts and stories resulting from main sessions. And for quick and fast message follow @ERFLatest and @connect2gdnet on twitter.

Conference hash tag #ERF2013

The challenges facing southern researchers in the Arab world

Development experiences from many Arab countries show that the achievement of development in different sectors depends on the practical level of knowledge and skills of the labor force available to those countries.  That’s why it is crucial to encourage southern research that can help the developing countries cope with the developed world, since it is the cornerstone in development where work force is trained to lead the social, economic, political and cultural changes.

Southern researchers experience numerous barriers to have their knowledge influence global debates on development. Thus, GDNet is focusing on solutions and ideas that help the development community to Connect South; it calls on development actors to pledge their support and re-establish their own commitments to southern researchers. Accordingly, the GDNet’s Connect South Campaign aims to advocate the value of southern research as well as promoting southern voices.

In this interview, Jamal Haidar (University of Paris I, Pantheon-Sorbonne, Paris) draws our attention to the three main challenges he has been experiencing as other southern researchers. First, it is extremely hard to access data from southern countries especially Arab countries. Second, there is a lack of funding in the Arab world to PHD students as well as young researchers to attend international conferences. Last but not least, he expresses his concern towards the issue that most southern researchers focus on the quantity rather quality of the research. Thus, he suggests that there should be some supervision on the quality of southern research in order to have more sound policy implications.

Related posts: Why do researchers struggle to communicate their research for evidence-based policymaking?