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).

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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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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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Dēmokratía!

(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.

“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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A GDN-AUB Panel Discussion focusing on the « Road to Democracy »

« The Road to Democracy : the Arab Region, Latin America and Eastern Europe » was the topic addressed at the GDN panel discussion held in partnership with the American University of Beirut (AUB) in Beirut, Lebanon on May 18th, 2012.

After decades of authoritarian rule, the popular uprisings of Tunisia and Egypt (January 2011) appear to have opened the door for a potential democratic transformation not only in these two countries but also in the Arab region as a whole.  This, of course, remains to be seen.

In their aftermath, the following political picture in the region has so far emerged:

  1. Popular and/or armed uprisings have occurred in Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and Syria. In the case of Libya, Western military intervention played a decisive role in toppling the Gadhafi regime, while in the case of Bahrain; Saudi military intervention has played a crucial role in preserving the regime. In Yemen, after a prolonged period of mass protests and military conflicts, a new president was elected, but national reconciliation is yet to be achieved. And in Syria the outcome of peaceful popular demonstrations against the regime that turned into armed upheavals remains uncertain.
  2. In the other Arab countries, threatening mass movements do not seem to be in the making, and, for the time being at least, the surviving autocratic regimes are not in imminent danger of being overthrown.

With the above in mind, 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 focus on Tunisia and Egypt, and against the experience of democratic transition in Latin America and Eastern Europe.

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This event is organized by GDNet as part of its Research to Policy Networking Program and South to South Learning

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