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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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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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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The political economy of transformation – Determinants of democracy in the Arab countries

By Moamen Gouda (University of Marburg, Germany) and Zeinab Sabet (GDNet)

ERF’s workshop and policy seminar on “The political economy of transformation in the ERF region” kicked off this morning. The workshop aims at discussing a number of draft papers, submitted in response to a call launched by ERF under the theme of the workshop, among authors and experts in order to improve its final output.

Panel session 1

Panel session 1

The ERF call for papers comes amid speculations regarding the direction the transformation process in the Arab spring countries is heading to and its final destination. Although the workshop refers in its title to ‘ERF region’, the majority of papers to be presented throughout the busy two days of October have to do more or less with Arab spring countries, with a special focus on Egypt. This morning session shedded new lights on the determinants of democracy in the Arab countries.

Sami Atallah (Lebanese Center for Policy Studies) argued that the legacy of British colonialism significantly affects contemporary political institutions and the prevailing authoritarian regimes existing in the Arab countries, particularly the Gulf ones. Looking at the importance of geostrategic routes between England and India, Hadi attempts to show their impact on the rise of political institutions in the Middle East. According to him, interference in the political institutions due to the British need to secure the trade was detrimental to the evolution of political representative institutions in the region. Introducing democratic institutions on the route countries was hence much harder in the aftermath of the independence of such countries.

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(Dêmos; people) and (kratos; power)! Two Greek words existed for thousands of years and more years yet to come. When put together, Demokratia; Democracy is coined. “Power to the people” or “Rule of the people”; both the literal meaning for such a political practice. Cleisthenes once introduced an oath stating: “To advise according to the laws what was best for the people”. Aristotle; the Greek polymath then said “democracy is the form of government in which… the free are the many and the rich are the few”. This highlights a paradox of democracy in that it attempts to be equal to all, yet often the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer, and a growing wealth gap will certainly impact governance.

Thousands of years after, and specifically in 2007, the UN resolved to observe 15 September as the International Day of Democracy. The resolution acknowledged that: “while democracies share common features, there is no single model of democracy and that democracy does not belong to any country or region…democracy is a universal value based on the freely-expressed will of people to determine their own political, economic, social and cultural systems, and their full participation in all aspects of life”.
Usually, the drive behind democracy is to inhibit the accumulation of too much authority in the hands of one or a certain group. It reposes on a stable relation between giving enough power for what Alexander Hamilton called “vigorous and energetic government” and avoiding giving out so much power that it becomes abused. On the other hand Winston Churchill once described it as the “least bad” form of government.

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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

Arab region, Latin America and Eastern Europe – Different experiences with common aspirations

In an attempt to assess the prospects for democratic transition in the Arab region against the experience of other regions, part of the GDN-AUB Panel Discussion on « The Road to Democracy : the Arab Region, Latin America and Eastern Europe » was dedicated to the Eastern and Central European democratic transformation experience.

In his presentation, Prof. Boris Vujcic, Deputy Governor, Croatia National Bank and GDN Board of Directors, addressed the Eastern and Central 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. According to him, the three regions have several commonalities, and thus a lot to learn from each other.

Watch remarks by Prof. Boris Vujcie:

Democratic transition: Looking for a balance between material and political needs

I had the opportunity to interview Mr. Rami Khoury, Director of Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs, who was our discussant at the GDN-AUB Panel Discussion on « The Road to Democracy : the Arab Region, Latin America and Eastern Europe ».

According to him, the road to democracy is a very complicated process involving many dimensions, among which political, economic, social, judicial and historical. It is obvious that action has to be taken on each of them, but a balance is needed between all of them.

Watch highlights from our interview with Mr. Rami Khoury, Director of Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs

Democracy vs. social justice: Which one comes first ?

The GDN-AUB Policy Seminar was not just an expert meeting, but rather a brainstorming session providing a comparative analysis of the transition processes in three different regions.

One of the main issues addressed was the causality between democracy and social justice. Whether one should start with democracy, social justice or whether both should be addressed simultaneously remain a big question mark relative to the nature of the democratic process. According to the panel, the democratic transition in the Arab region requires that both are addressed at once.

Watch remarks by Dr. Gerardo della Paolera, GDN President:

On the road to democracy: Learning from each other’s experiences

The policy seminar “The Road to Democracy : the Arab Region, Latin America and Eastern Europe» brought experts from Eastern Europe and Latin America to share lessons learned from their transitional experiences with their homologues from the Arab region. Egyptian and Tunisian speakers focused on the obstacles that hinder the ongoing democratic process in their respective countries.

Although each of the three regions has its own unique experience, their peoples’s aspirations remain common, i.e. freedom, democracy, equity and social justice, and public sector accountability. The substantial differences that exist between our regions should not stop us from learning from each other’s experiences, and this is because ” democratic values are universal values that cut across regions” as Prof. Samir Makdisi stated.