Gendering the Costs and Benefits of the Arab Uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt

This blog is written by Dr. Rania Salem, University of Toronto

Existing treatments of gender and the Arab uprisings have predominantly focused on three questions. First, they have sought to highlight the role played by women activists and women’s organizations in attempts to topple authoritarian regimes, and their continued struggles in the pursuit of “bread, freedom, and social justice.” Second, they have asked what the electoral success of Islamist political parties in several Arab countries means for women’s status. In many cases, these treatments have assumed or asserted thRania Salemat Islamist political agendas will exclude or disadvantage women. Third, these treatments have expressed concern for the legitimacy of women’s political claims-making in the post-uprising era, given the patronage women’s organizations received from the deposed authoritarian regimes in some countries.

Little is known about ordinary women’s perceptions of and responses to the broad social, political, and economic transformations witnessed since the Arab ‘Spring.’ People’s experiences and perceptions of the costs and benefits of the uprisings will likely be shaped by gender to the extent that gender affects individuals’ roles, vulnerabilities, and priorities.

My study addresses the following questions, with specific application to Tunisia and Egypt:

  • Have assessments of the economic and political situations improved or deteriorated since the uprisings, and does this differ by gender?
  • How does gender affect ordinary people’s assessments of the economic and political situations, and does this differ before and after the uprisings?

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Unleashing the contagious effect in dissidence in MENA

Dissidents actively challenge an established doctrine, policy, or institution; affecting a dissident movement when uniting for a common cause. Activists along with popular mobilization in the Middle East expressed wide scale dissidence. This resulted in the fall of long-lasting autocratic rulers in a domino-like fashion, referred to as the “Arab Spring”.

Yet, there are several unanswered questions related to the Arab uprisings. One of these questions is whether these series of uprisings were result of a wave of democratization that diffused across the Arab world or whether each country’s uprising is an independent event from its surroundings.

The second session of the ERF workshop “The Pulse of the Arab Streets” focused on the mass movements. Dr. Samer AtallahAmerican University in Cairo (AUC)- presented a draft paper on “Diffusion of Dissidence in Arab Public Opinion” that is co-authored with Dr. Mohamed Al-Ississ. The authors study dissidence in Arab public opinion before and after the wave of uprisings. Specifically, they are investigating the contagion effect in dissidence in public opinion. In other words, they are investigating whether the behavior of dissidence in neighboring countries interacted through public opinion or not, and whether the diffusion dynamics changed after the start of the uprisings in the spring of 2011.

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Did the Arab Spring Experience Change Political System Preferences? No and Yes, According to Arab Barometer Opinion Surveys

This blog is written by Dr. Mark Tessler (University of Michigan)

Did the turbulent period from early 2011 to late 2013 change the thinking of ordinary men and women in the Arab world about the way their countries should be governed? The uprisings of this period did not bring the smooth transitions to democracy sought by protesters. Thus, given the difficulties and disturbing violence that characterized these years in many countries, it might be expected that Arab publics would lose faith in democracy, or at least worry that democratic political systems are not effective at maintaining order and stability.Dr. Mark Tessler

The events of this period may also have changed people’s thinking about the role that Islam should play in government and political affairs. Elections in Egypt and Tunisia in 2011 and 2012 brought Islamists to power. And while some of their votes came from individuals who favor an Islamist social and political agenda, much of their support, roughly half according to opinion polls, came from men and women who were motivated by the hope that Islamist governments would be more committed than previous regimes to the welfare of ordinary citizens. But in each case the government disappointed the public and collapsed in 2013 amidst renewed protests and demands for a change in political direction.

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The Pulse of the Arab Streets

Three years into the transition following the political upheavals in the Arab world, the new rulers in several countries are facing daunting challenges. These include a difficult democratization process and deteriorating social and economic conditions. In most cases, there is little understanding about the ongoing transformations taking place in society, which complicate policy-making further.The Pulse of the Arab Streets workshop

In an attempt to address the above challenges; the Economic Research Forum (ERF); as an impartial regional network, has embarked upon carrying out a research project on “The pulse of the Arab Street: Understanding the Political Economy of the Arab Uprisings Using Novel Public Opinion Data” led by Dr. Ishac Diwan. This research program aims to study the various dimensions of the ongoing social, economic, and political transformations in Arab societies through its use of nationally-representative opinion surveys to examine developments and transformations on the “Arab street” through the eyes and voices of the most relevant yet most under-researched actors – ordinary Arab citizens.

In this regard, ERF will be holding a workshop on October 11-12 at Dauphine University in Paris. The objective of the workshop is to provide a platform for discussing the research papers and their findings among authors and experts in political economy in order to improve the final output.

Stay tuned and catch up on discussions and live updates by following us on @ERFlatest, ERF Blog and our YouTube channel.

Is formalization really the panacea for informality in MENA?

The informal sector typically comprises all business and economic activities that are not monitored by the government, and so -technically- do not exist in official books. But what does that mean exactly, for both the economy and those who work informally? Well, since their revenues are not taxed and are not included in a country’s gross national product (GNP), the phenomenon results in major mis-representation of the country’s economic performance. On the other hand, workers in the informal sector may think that they’re rather better off evading “extorting” government taxation, they’re actually depriving themselves of basic rights (such as health insurance).informality_policy_panel

This workshop’s proceedings drew attention to a number of the major problems of the informal sector in the MENA region. Yet the question still remains; is formalization worth the trouble, especially in the region’s countries’ dire conditions? The workshop concluded with a policy panel comprising of four of Egypt’s finest policy affiliates and makers. They tackled the issue of informality in Egypt from different policy levels, corresponding with their expertise in working –directly or indirectly- with the informal sector.

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Informality: Choice or Last Resort for MSMEs in Egypt and Palestine?

The economies of the MENA region are comparable to the structure of an iceberg, with the formal sector being similar to the surface, which is discerned by all, and the large informal part of the economy operating underground. The informal sector evades taxes, is not taken into account in the calculation of GDP, and is not monitored by the government. The rise of the informal sector in the MENA region economies is not without consequences on economic growth and productivity. This session, which is part of the workshop on the economics of informality in the ERF region, endeavors to tackle the informal sector in Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) in Egypt and Palestine. It aims at explaining the reasons behind such a large informal sector in these two particular countries, the pros and cons of informality and its impact on the whole economy, and last but not least, the measures that should be taken to promoInformalityte formalization.

Dr. Belal Fallah (MAS) starts off the session by presenting his draft paper, entitled  ‘The Pros and Cons of Formalizing Informal MSMEs in the Palestinian Economy’. The main target of his paper is to explain the extensive size of the Palestinian informal sector. He departs from the argument that a large informal sector can be really harmful to an economy. The tax evasion emanated from informality, he argues, results in a large budget deficit that hinders the government’s ability to provide basic goods and services. He then claims that formalization, on the other hand, widens business opportunities to expand. The tax rate in Palestine, he confirms, is one of the lowest in the world, yet massive tax evasion is witnessed.  Dr. Fallah wraps up his presentation by providing a set of policy recommendations. Raising awareness about the benefits of joining the formal sector, enhancing tax monitoring and decreasing the cost of joining the formal sector are all possible channels through which decreasing the scope of informality in the Palestinian economy could be achieved.

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The economics of informality in the MENA region!!

A typical MENA country produces one-third of its GDP and employs 67 percent of its labor force informally – World Bank

The informal sector or informal economy is that part of an economy that is not taxed, monitored by any form of government or included in any gross national product (GNP), unlike the formal economy. The recent Arab Awakening is seen by many analysts to partially reflect economic exclusion, in which informality is one of its forms. Workers in the informal sector tend to endure low job security, no social insurance, low income and adverse working conditions. Similarly, firms in this sector, while enjoying the ease of entry and exit and escaping costly formal regulations, are deprived from having access to formal credit, contracts and export opportunities.

The above problem is exacerbated by the observation that the informal sector is relatively large. Thus, in an attempt to understand the trends, causes and dynamics of informality in the MENA region, ERF is holding a workshop on “The economics of informality in the ERF region”, that will convene for one day in Cairo, Egypt. The main objective of the workshop is to provide a platform for discussing the draft papers and their preliminary findings among authors and experts in order to improve the final output.

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