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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ERF 20th Annual Conference on “Social justice and economic development”

Economic Research Forum (ERF) kick-started its 20th Annual Conference in Cairo yesterday, March 22nd, featuring an impressive line-up of speakers. In light of the significant political transformations happening in the region, this year’s conference is devoted to the theme “Social Justice and Economic Development”. Social justice is widely considered to be one of the main factors behind popular uprisings in the MENA region; Arab societies witnessed an increasing concentration of wealth, unequal opportunities and rising corruption. The conference is addressing social justice with a special focus on what social justice might mean, how different societies were able to bring it about, and the lessons-learned from these experiences for Arab countries, particularly the ones in transition.

Speakers during ERF annual conference

Alternative perspectives on social justice

The opening and first plenary session discussed the alternative perspectives on social justice. Following the opening remarks of Ahmed Galal (ERF Managing Director), and Abdlatif Al-Hamad (Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development), François Bourguignon (Paris School of Economics) discussed the empirical and factual side of inequality in his presentation entitled ‘Inequality trends in the world: Common forces, idiosyncrasies and measurement errors’. When comparing the patterns of inequality in the developed world with that of the MENA region, Bourguignon shows that two thirds of developed countries witnessed an increasing inequality in the two decades between 1980 and 2000; including Sweden and the Netherlands, as do countries in Africa and Latin America. The striking intelligence he shared is that only the MENA region ‘shows surprising stability’.

Watch our interview with François Bourguignon


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Sparking and catching fire

This post was written by Dr. Roksana Bahramitash

ERF workshop on “Women Economic Empowering the MENA Region”

ERF workshop on “Women Economic Empowering the MENA Region”

The world of politics and political campaign is consumed by women’s civil rights; from Quebec leading provincial campaign passing the Quebec Charter of Values, which bans hijab to defend women’s right, to Muslim Brotherhood conservative faction who is campaigning for more traditional role for women. Women’s civil rights remain at the center of attention.

Yet in a world where the poorest 40 percent account for less than 5 percent of global income and gender gap remains a serious issue throughout the world, so little is mentioned about women’s socio-economic rights. The issue is more acute in the MENA region, which has the lowest female labor force participation rates and the highest ratios of female to male unemployment rate.

As a woman from the region, I am always shocked when I travel through the region and make my way in an around the poor neighborhoods; where women walk in and out of markets and shops to buy their basic food. What shakes me is a simple calculation between the prices of basic food and that of the minimum wages, I am sure this calculation has to be behind what women can or cannot afford as they continue to be the one who puts food on the table. In those circumstances, calculating household income against the prices of basic commodities, food, rent, medical bills, utilities and transport seems like an impossible job. It just does not make sense; people’s income and the prices of their basics fails elementary math. The question is how does the household balance the budget. And of course many don’t and end up in absolute poverty.

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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!

Are “South-South” interactions geographically restricted?

Southern researchers experience particular barriers to having their knowledge influence global debates on development. Publishing in international journal, in addition to putting together and sharing research ideas is often harder for them. Southern research institutes are less likely to have the communications capacity and budgets of their equivalents in the North so their voices can get lost online and at international events. GDNet’s own survey data also points to the dominance of northern academic practices making it harder for southern research to be seen on an equal footing.

In this video, Nader Kabbani (Silatech, Qatar) sheds light on some of the challenges facing researchers in the Middle East and the South in general. He argues that research clubs located in the South do not interact with each other, but with northern organizations instead.

Besides, the “South-South” interactions are much more elusive, in which people attending conferences in English or Arabic do not interact due to geographical restrictions, so there is a need to address different audience.

Learn more about the GDNet Connect South Campaign and watch this video

Interested to join us? Sign up to the Connect South Charter of Commitment and pledge how you will help southern research have a greater impact on LinkedIn

Inequality of opportunity and outcomes in the Arab Region

By Eman El-Hadary (Economic Research Forum)  and Rana Hendy (Economic Research Forum)

Rana Hendy, ERF

Rana Hendy, ERF

Despite the long negligence of inequality research for the benefit of economic growth, rising attention is paid to inequality and its possible contribution to the uprisings in the region. However, it is important to highlight that the Arab Region is characterized by predominant data scarcity for decades. Data are either unavailable or inaccessible by the research community due to political constraints. Nevertheless, the Economic Research Forum (ERF) is currently carrying out an important initiative through its partnership with statistical offices around the region making micro data accessible to the public by collecting, harmonizing and documenting the data. Building on these efforts, ERF has recently launched the Open Access Micro Data Initiative (OAMDI) that consists of dissemination micro data. This initiative has already started to bear its fruits as 17 datasets from three Arab countries namely Egypt, Palestine and Jordan are now accessible via the new ERF data portal.

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The Future of the “Arab Spring”: Between Islamist and Secular forces

Marwan Muasher (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace)

Marwan Muasher (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace)

“This is not an Arab spring, in my view, nor is it an Arab inferno. It is a process of change that was bound to happen, but one has to be realistic about its chances.”

These are the words of Marwan Muasher, currently VP for studies at Carnegie Endowment, summing up his views of the emerging events in the Arab world and whether they can lead to any lasting outcomes. His speech was part of the third plenary session of the Economic Research Forum (ERF)’s 19th annual conference, providing an outlook for possible scenarios that could result from the rise of Islamist parties to power.

The Battle between Islamist Forces & Secular Elements

Following the overthrow of autocratic regimes, the uprisings started shaping up into a battle between political segments -namely Islamic forces and secular elements- that have surfaced after years of being kept under the lid. However this battle disregards the very essence of the revolutions, which originally set off as battles for pluralism; to consolidate democracy and solidify everybody’s right to be included.

One promising outcome of the revolutions, however, is that the people now have developed the savvy to question, criticize and claim power. Bringing down regimes that have been around for decades in a mere two-week time is an unmistakable threat to the “Holiness” of the rising political forces, especially the religious ones such as the Muslim Brotherhood. The problem with these political forces, Muasher explains, is that their ideologies and slogans have never been put to the test during the previous regimes. Now that they’re in the spot light, promises of reform and slogans like “Islam Is the Solution” must be translated into detailed programs of action in order to gain credibility.

The Economy: Beyond “Bread before Freedom”

Muasher argues that the old regimes’ economic reform programs weren’t wrong, but were incomplete. The problem with the “Bread before Freedom” argument is that it makes way for corruption; they weren’t supported with a proper political system, represented in a strong parliament that works in parallel with the government to address problems and abuses when they arise.

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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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ERF 2013 Annual Conference – Highlights Day 1

Economic Research Forum (ERF)’s  19th Annual Conference kicked-off yesterday. Interesting and  fruitful discussions are be

ing held


 the controversial issue of

 Economic Development and the Rise of Islamist Parties.

 Amongst others, the following are the main topics that are being addressed:

ERF2013 Storify Highlights Day 1

The GDNet team, in collaboration with Pier Andrea Pirani from Euforic Services, is supporting the social reporting of the event.

You can see updates from the conference on the ERF Blog, or follow  the twitter feed of @ERFlatest and @Connect2GDNet. The hashtag for the event is #erf2013.

We put together yesterday’s highlights with Storify. You can see the curated outputs clicking on the image above.

Stay tuned for more update and join in the conversation online!

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