Navigating the Transitions to Democracy

This post is written by Ahmed Goher (Economic Research Forum)

The Economic Research Forum (ERF) brought together speakers Eva Bellin (Brandeis University), Erik Berglof (London School of Economics) and Larry Diamond (Stanford University) on the third and final day of its 21st Annual Conference to explore how MENA countries can best manage their transitions to democracy.

Bellin began the session, chaired by Bassma Kodmani (Arab Reform Initiative), by presenting on ‘Lessons for Democratic Transition in the Arab World.’ The core argument of Bellin’s presentation was that established findings in the literature that economic development better sustains democracy, that neighborhood democratization has a high chance of leading to transition, anHB__8914d that a professionalized military apparatus is more likely to ensure a smooth transition to democracy; none of these findings are actually deterministic. In this sense, per Bellin, identifying lessons of what has worked elsewhere will not provide a definitive roadmap for Arab countries’ successful transition to democracy. For instance, the idea that higher GDP is more conducive to democracy is not a set rule, since half of the poorest countries in the world are democracies, Bellin argues, adding that some authoritarian regimes can have high levels of economic development as happened in the cases of Chile and Argentina.

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Forms of Democracy and Development

This blog is written by Ahmed Goher (Economic Research Forum)

The Economic Research Forum (ERF) held its second plenary session on ‘Forms of Democracy and Development’ on March 21, in the context of the 21st Annual Conference being held in Tunisia.1The session joined Tarek Masoud, associate professor of public policy at Harvard University‘s John F. Kennedy School of Government, Mustapha Kamel Nabli, a Tunisian economist and the former Governor of the Central Bank of Tunisia, and Gérard Roland, E. Morris Cox professor of economics and professor of political science at the University of California Berkeley.

The three speakers broadly explored the many forms of democracy and their different results in terms of growth and development. More specifically, they looked at the way in which institutions impact economic outcomes, the way in which different political systems and electoral processes do or do not impact the success of democratization, and the relationship between culture and democracy.

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Disentangling the Complex Relationship between Democracy and Development: Part II

This blog post is written by Ahmed Goher (Economic Research Forum)

In an attempt to understand the causal relationship between democracy and development, Adam Przeworski, Carroll and Milton Professor of Politics and (by courtesy) Economics at New York University, took over from Ibrahim Elbadawi and presented ‘ Democracy, Elections, and Development’ in the first session of ERF’s 21st Annual ConferenceHB__8561 that kicked off March 20 in Gammarth, Tunisia.

Przeworski began by expressing his optimism towards the future of the region, emphasizing that he was not dissuaded by the terrorist incident that took place only two days prior to the conference, claiming the lives of over 20 individuals at Tunis’ Bardo Museum.

Przeworski then proceeded to ambitiously summarize two enormous bodies of economic and political literature to make sense of the complex relationship between development and democracy. According to Przeworski, the complexity of the matter means that for the large part very few things are certain, largely since econometrics fails to reject the many brilliant, albeit sometimes divergent, postulated theories. The one thing Przeworski claims we can be certain of is that democracies do not grow slower than non-democracies; determining whether democracies grow faster, however, “is next to impossible to tell.” For one thing, notions of democracy are diverse, different variables (e.g., GDP or levels of growth) are often taken into account, and the way in which the data itself is organized also differs largely among economists. The result: divergent results that only make this topic more complex and hard to understand.

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Disentangling the Complex Relationship between Democracy and Development: Part I

This blog post is written by Ahmed Goher (Economic Research Forum)

Economic Research Forum (ERF) held the first plenary session of its 21st Annual Conference on March 20 in Gammarth, Tunisia. The session came to answer a number of questions of vital importance to the transition processes a number of MENA countries embarked on following the Arab Spring. Namely, what is the nature of the causal relationship between democracy and development? Does democracy lead to more growth and development in countries? Conversely, does development lead to democracy? And, perhaps more importantly, what does all of this mean for MENA countries in transition.

To explore this complex but integral theme, ERF joined speakers Ibrahim Elbadawi, director of research at the Dubai EHB__8546conomic Council, and Adam Przeworski, Carroll and Milton Professor of Politics and (by courtesy) Economics at New York University, together in the first plenary session of the 21st Annual Conference.

Following the two cross-cutting themes of resource-dependency and social polarization, Elbadawi, who largely focuses on oil-rich Arab economies, began the session by giving a presentation titled ‘The Arab Spring: Much Violence, Little Democracy,’ in which he tackled three broad questions: (1) Is democracy important for development? (2) If so, why has the Arab Spring been such a “late awakening”? and (3) Why is there so much violence? .

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ERF 21st Annual Conference Kicks Off

This blog is written by Ahmed Goher (Economic Research Forum)

HB__8487Economic Research Forum’s (ERF) 21st Annual Conference kicked off on March 20 in Gammarth, Tunisia, at the Golden Tulip Carthage Hotel. The event, joining over 200 economists, political scientists and policymakers from the region began with opening remarks by ERF Managing Director Ahmed Galal, Chairman of the Board of Trustees Abdel Latif Al-Hamad and Hedi Larbi of the Tunisian Economic Association.
The three deplored the heinous terrorist incident that rocked Tunisia’s Bardo Museum, leaving 23 dead, a few days prior to the conference, and emphasized that continued hard work is the best way to counter the sinister ambitions of extremists. They also expressed their gratitude to the ERF network and highlighted how, in the words of Hamad, “ERF is an institution that has grown from nothing to something important and dynamic thanks to its fellows, affiliates, management and staff.”

On his part, Galal said the conference was being held in Tunisia in light of the ‘Democracy and Economic Development’ theme under which it is being held and the fact that Tunisia is a place in which “democracy is in the making,” adding that the wide attendance to the conference is a testament that “[ERF] is supportive of countries that are democratic, inclusive and civilian […] We are not fearful and are not running away.” Galal also gave a brief rundown of ERF’s accomplishments over the past year and noted the introduction of a new policy dialogues program by ERF to bridge the gap between research and policymaking in the region. “ERF is like a submarine, it is very powerful but also underwater,” he explained, adding that for its fruits to fully materialize it needed to surface and ensure proper reach to the community of policymakers in the region.

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ERF’s 21st Annual Conference Nearing

This blog is written by Ahmed Goher, Economic Research Forum

From 2010 to around mid-2012, uprisings swept MENA in what has come to be known as the ‘Arab Spring.’ While bread was at the forefront of the demands of protestors, shouts for freedom and social justice were also heard across the region. It is with this in mind that many countries of the region embarked on messy democratization processes with the tacit understanding that democratic regimes are more conducive to development.
ERF 21st Annual Conference

Both theory and empirical evidence, however, are inconclusive when it comes to the impact of democracy on economic growth and distribution, on the one hand, and the impact of growth and distribution on democracy, on the other. For one thing, conceptions of democracy are not uniform, but often take different forms with varying repercussions on policy-making and development when they materialize.

In this context, the Economic Research Forum (ERF) announced that it will hold its 21st Annual Conference in Tunisia, March 20-22, under the theme of ‘Democracy and Economic Development.’ The conference has come to be recognized as the premier event for economists in the Middle East, bringing together over 150 policymakers, economists and political scientists.  Through a number of plenary sessions, participants at the conference will seek to uncover and understand the link between democracy and development, the possible impact of different forms of democracy on development and how to best navigate the transition towards democracy in the Arab world.

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Growth or equity: which comes first?

In any discussion of development, one dilemma invariably comes to the forefront: which should come first, growth or equity? Nowhere is this debate more pressing than in transitioning Arab countries, where a new social contract is in the making. It is a dilemma that mDebateust be resolved if the lives of these Arab citizens are to see any real improvement.

The debate took place on December 10th, 2014 in Cairo at 4.00 pm; and organized in collaboration with IDRC. To advance this public policy debate, two teams of debaters  argued for and against the motion: The Economics of Growth is a More Urgent Priority than the Politics of Equity.

Our four debaters are Shantayanan DevarajanWorld Bank-, Hoda SelimEconomic Research Forum-,  Ahmed GalalEconomic Research Forum– and Ravi KanburCornell University-; it was moderated by Khaled EzzelarabAswat Masreya-.results_debate

The debate was preceded by brief remarks by Bruce Currie-Alder, Regional Director of the IDRC office in Cairo.

The crowd voted at the end of the debate; 53.9% were convinced that equity is more important than growth; while 33.3% voted for growth over equity.

You can now watch the debate online