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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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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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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What happened to growth after political change?

Leaders matter. Incompetent regimes are more likely to be replaced, Caroline Freund

The Arab spring has had a political whirlpool effect on countries of the Middle East. With nothing happening for quite a long time, to almost all drives for change interchangeably playing active role in the region. After many decades of nothing, a lot of change happened. The ERF organized a session on’ The Political Economy Of Change In The Middle East – What Is Driving Change? during the Seventeenth World Congress, organized by Intentional Economic Association  (IEA) and the Colombia Global Centers, Amman.  The session aims to discuss ideas and directions to think about what is guiding this change, what is currently happening, make some logic of surrounding events and try to figure out the main drives for change in the Middle East, being it geopolitical, social or economic.

In this session Caroline Freund, Peterson Institute presented a paper ‘Change In The Middle East: Similarities And Differences With Global Experiences’ co-authored by Melise Jaud, World Bank. The aim of the paper is to try to understand what to expect based on other countries’ experience that has gone through democratic transitions by examining the causes and economic consequences of political transition.  Freund in her paper examines over 100 transitions in the last half-century with various outcomes: to and from democracy, some partial, and some failed.

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ERF @ The International Economic Association 17th World Congress

The International Economic Association (IEA), with collaboration with the Colombia Global Centers (Amman), is hosting its Seventeenth Annual World Congress at the King Hussein Bin Talal Convention Centre in the Dead Sea, Jordan, starting today up until June 10th. The congress brings together diverse communities of economists, academics and policymakers from both developing and developed countries, working on a wide range of topics with a diversity of approaches.


Seventeenth World Congress- International Economic Association

The 17th World Congress is organized in partnership with the Economic Research Forum, Fung Global Institute, International Development Research Centre, Centre for International Governance Innovation, Institute for New Economic Thinking, African Innovation Foundation, King Abdullah II Fund for Development, and Japan International Cooperation Agency.

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