Shifting political economies of grievances: the generation of state cutbacks comes of age

This blog is written by Dr. Nisreen Salti, American University in Beirut and Melani Cammett, Brown University

The uprisings that spread across the Arab countries, leading to the overthrow of Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt and putting incumbent rulers on guard across the region, are widely depicted as youth uprisings. Images of the crowds of protesters often show a sea of young faces. But young people across the world tend to take part in demonstrations and protests at a higher rate than their elders simply because they have more leisure time and fewer responsibilities to work and family, among other factors. To what extent, then, were the Arab uprisings truly youth movements, reflecting youth-specific grievances? Do the youth in Tunisia and Egypt show higher levels of dissatisfaction with government performance than older cohorts? Or are the grievances of the youth similar to those of other generations?

Another common reading of the uprisings characterizes them as movements of the disenchanted middle class. This view, advanced by the likes oNisreen Saltif Diwan, Gelvin, and Dai, holds that a large middle class emerged in the decades after independence, due primarily to state employment, important strides in education, and large-scale improvements in the provision of healthcare. This class is also thought to bear the brunt of the radical state spending cuts, the scaling back of public employment of the last few decades, and the failure of these economies to provide sufficient high quality jobs to enable social advancement. Is the middle class more disenchanted than other socio-economic classes? And is it most aggrieved about issues related to education and job markets, which are more closely linked with upward mobility than other sectors?

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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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Lessons from Arab Countries in Transition

Final day policy panel discuss lessons from the experiences of a region in transition

Final day policy panel discuss lessons from the experiences of a region in transition

Chaired by Noha El-Mikawy (Ford Foundation and ERF), the third and final plenary session of the ERF Conference focused on lessons emerging from the experiences of Arab countries in transition. Four speakers, Gouda Abdel-Khalek, George Corm, Paul Salem and Zafiris Tzannatos addressed key issues surrounding the concept of social justice, each offering penetrating insights and unique perspectives on prevalent economic and social conditions in the Arab world and wider MENA region.

Social justice: the cornerstone of equitable development

Gouda Abdel-Khalek (Cairo University), presented on Social Justice: lessons of experience for Egypt. Seeking to elaborate on the meaning behind ‘bread, freedom and social justice’ – a slogan now widely recognised as articulating the desire for change in many Arab countries – Abdel-Khalek’s message was that building foundations for social justice in times of political turbulence is a tricky task; and one beset with challenges. He cited the steady increase in wage related protests before and after 2012 as evidence of the link between social unrest and the poorly performing Egyptian economy.

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Equality of opportunity: What the people want vs. what is given

“Therein lies the problem with the idea of equal opportunity for all. Some people are simply better placed to take advantage of opportunity.”

—Deborah Orr

In the first panel at the ERF 20th Annual conference Marc Fleurbaey (Professor of Economics and Humanistic at Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University) gave an interesting presentation on alternative approaches to comprehensive measurement of equality of opportunity and how it could be implemented in developing countries. We caught up with Fleurbaey after the session and recorded the short interview below.

Fleurbaey explains that despite the lot of interesting research on the measurement of equality of opportunities, the majority only looks at opportunities, but then one would wonder what happens to the people who fail to seize the opportunities. In fact, he argues, it is rather hard to measure opportunities if you want to encompass all the circumstances that constrain people.

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“Understanding and avoiding the oil curse in the Arab world”, why is the topic important?

The conference was closed with a panel discussion moderated by Ahmed Galal, Managing Director of the Economic Research Forum. The Panel included Abdullatif Al-Hamad, Director General and Chairman of the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development; Ibrahim Elbadawi, Economic Policy and Research Center – EPRC, Dubai Economic Council & Economic Research Forum – ERF); and Alan Gelb, Center for Global Development, who provided a wrap-up of the discussions and highlighted the following steps.

Watch video interviews with Ahmed Galal, Abdullatif Al-Hamad and Ibrahim Elbadawi about the importance of the topic to the region and  the role of ERF in producing knowledge about the important issues of natural resources and long-term development.

Ahmed Galal, Economic Research Forum (ERF)

Abdullatif Al-Hamad, Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development (AFESD)

Ibrahim Elbadawi, Economic Policy and Research Center (EPRC) & Economic Research Forum (ERF)

“Oil revenues may run down much before we exhaust the oil”, Paul Collier

At the end of the first day, I had the opportunity to interview Paul Collier, Professor of Economics, Director of the Centre for the Study of African Economies at the University of Oxford. The following issues were addressed:

  • Given that oil is a non-renewable resource, what will happen to the region when the oil is gone?
  • How well do you believe the region is successfully trying to manage its oil wealth?
  • What would you advise policymakers to do to intelligently manage their oil funds?

Collier stressed on the need to build up other assets than oil revenues, which could include capital, human skills, investment in the country and assets abroad. He also highlighted the diversity of the region; different countries having different degrees of success and different opportunities. According to him, Dubai presents a good example of a country who managed successfully to diversify away from oil by turning itself into a service economy. Following this example and given its good location, North Africa should diversify in manufacturers and services for the European market.

As for the risk of facing an oil curse, Collier considers it being very low given the amount of oil discoveries in other places (i.e. North America). According to him, the danger remains in the market becoming over-supplied to the extent that prices calm down, as well as the possible adoption of a regulatory regime that reduces the use of oil to save the planet; which makes the diversification of the economy even more urgent.

Finally, Collier pointed out the need for a decision-making structure to allow the use of oil funds for domestic investment and foreign asset accumulation.

Watch the full interview:

International vs. Arab country experiences

The third session of the conference featured two presentations while focusing on “International vs. Arab Country Experiences”. The first one was presented by Thorvaldur Gylfason, Professor of Economics at the Department of Economics – University of Iceland, on “International Experiences with the Management of Natural Resources”. (Click here to watch a video interview with Gylfason published under an earlier post)

The second presentation was delivered by Hoda Selim, Economic Research Forum (ERF), on “The GCC and Populous Oil-rich Economies in the Arab World: How Much in Common and How Much in Contrast?”.

Watch highlights from Hoda Selim about the key findings of the paper: