ERF Research to play key role for transitional democracies across Arab region

During the last day of the ERF 17th Conference, we had the great pleasure and opportunity to record a short interview with Mr. Abdlatif Al-Hamad, ERF Chairman of the Board and Chairman of the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development.

In the video below, Mr. Al-Hamad reflects on the importance of the Economic Research Forum and the role it can play in the context of the recent developments in the Arab region.

For Mr. Al-Hamad, who has been associated with ERF since its foundation, the institution is a very important actor in the Arab region: ERF is in fact a unique organisation which overlaps the whole Arab world, Turkey and Iran. It can foster mutual learning and knowledge sharing among the different countries, and leverage the complementarity that exists in the region as a whole. ERF should continue in its excellent effort of bringing relevant research to the region.

In the context of the recent developments in the Arab world, Mr. Al-Hamad underlines that ERF can facilitate the process of “gearing our minds and resources” to understand these events and prioritize the research agenda. This way the Economic Research Forum can continue and step up his relevance for the region.

ERF 17th Annual Conference: Best Paper Awards

Not only the ERF annual conferences provide a platform for economists and professionals in related disciplines across the region to discuss the most pressing development challenges facing the Arab world, but it also provide an avenue for the presentation and discussion of a large number of papers several parallel session.

This year’s conference dedicated its parallel sessions to address the following themes: Labor and Human Development; International Economics; Finance; Microeconomics and Sectoral Studies; Macroeconomics; Institutional Economics.

The Best Paper Awards went to:

Plenary 3: Sustaining Political and Economic Transformation across the Arab Region

ERF 17th Annual Conference - Panel Plenary Session 3

ERF 17th Annual Conference - Panel Plenary Session 3

Mustapha Nabli (The Central Bank, Tunisia) began plenary 3 by stating “these have been wild months – our own Mediterranean tsunami”, but what next for new emerging democracies across the Arab region? Nabli outlined a number of key proponents that might ensure the sustainability of the democratic movements in Egypt and Tunisia.

The first was the need for inclusive growth – dependent on the creation of better quality jobs that meet the expectations of increasingly educated young people. The second was the need to tackle systemic corruption, which would help remove economic and political uncertainty. A third point was the need for introducing good governance, stating “we might have democracy established, but we won’t reap the benefits unless the checks and balances associated with good governance are implemented”.

There is almost certainly likely to be a decline in economic growth, and so economic stability is vital in ensuring a negative feedback loop does not emerge between politics and the economy, added Nabil.

The events currently underway in Libya have had their effect on the psyche of Tarik Yousef (Dubai School of Government). He declared, that “for over 40 years I have possessed no sense of national pride, until now. Now I feel like telling the world I am Libyan – I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the young people who have brought about this awakening”.

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“One Man Can Make a Difference”

The events currently underway in Libya have had their effect on the psyche of Tarik Yousef (Dubai School of Government) ” for over 40 years I have possessed no sense of national pride, until now. Now I feel like telling the world I am Libyan – I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the young people who have brought about this awakening”.

Yousef outlined that the non-democratic regimes across the region have ultimately lost much of their legitimacy, and their ability to reinforce the non-democratic equilibrium. The anti-regime attitude that has emerged, fuelled by a loss of credibility is exemplified in the case of Mubarak who, although having been accepted as a dictator for twenty years, became increasingly disconnected from the voice of the Egyptian people.

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ERF 17th Annual Conference: Report Plenary Session 3

Inspired by the recent developments in the Arab region, the third plenary session of the ERF 17th Annual Conference explored the drivers and dynamics of political and economic transformation, with a special focus on the ERF region.  The session was moderated by Susanne Szabo, Director, Social and Economic Policy, at the Canadian International Development Research Center.

ERF 17th Annual Conference - Panel Plenary Session 3

ERF 17th Annual Conference - Panel Plenary Session 3

The speakers addressed such questions as to what extent does the recent regional furor invalidate the authoritarian bargain model, in which people are assured certain economic gains in return for accepting limited political freedom? Is there a tipping point at which this bargain breaks down? And, in light of these changes, what can the rest of the region expect,going forward?

Mustapha Nabli speaking in the Third Plenary Session at the ERF 17th Annual Conferene

Mustapha Nabli speaking in the Third Plenary Session at the ERF 17th Annual Conferene

Mustapha Nabli, Governor of the Central Bank of Tunisia, was the first speaker taking the floor. In his talk, he provided his own perspective on how the situation has developed in Tunisia and Egypt until leading to the revolutions and regime changes, and what’s the way forward in terms of economic and political development.

Ishac Diwan speaking in the Third Plenary Session at the ERF 17th Annual Conferene

Ishac Diwan speaking in the Third Plenary Session at the ERF 17th Annual Conferene

From his side, Ishac Diwan, World Bank, looked at the role of economics in this transition phase, and what economists can contribute to re-shape the political and economic space.

 Tarek Youssef speaking in the Second Plenary Session at the ERF 17th Annual Conferene

Tarek Youssef speaking in the Third Plenary Session at the ERF 17th Annual Conferene

Lastly, Tarek Youssef, Dean of the Dubai School of Government, gave a very inspiring talk, reflecting on what has been leading towhat he defined “the most important period for the modern Middle East.”

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Survival and Expansion of SMEs

During the ERF 17th Annual Conference Francesca Marchetta from the Robert Schuman Centre (EUI), Centre d’Etude et de Recherches sur le Development International (CERDI) presented a paper on the survival of entrepreneurial activities particularly role of migration activities.Looking at the Egyptian labor market survey (1988-2006), her research pointed out the facts that non-random selection in un-observables is likely to generate “endogeneity” between an entrepreneur migration experience and the chances of survival of the entrepreneurial activity.

Marchetta stressed that these important findings have not been explored prior to her research. She concluded that the migration experience significantly improves the chances of survival of the firm.

Download the paper “Born to be Alive? Return Migration and the Survival of Entrepreneurial Activities in Egypt”from the ERF website.

From her side, Serena Canaan presented a paper titled “The Determinants of Expansion of SMEs under a Partial Credit Guarantee Scheme: The Case of Lebanon”.  Serena tried to assess the impact of the Lebanese credit guarantee scheme on its clients. She mentioned the fact that in Lebanon it is difficult to assess the contribution of SMEs to the economy.

Serena points out that literature for her paper is “scarce” and that she tried to add to this literature through the paper findings and conclusion.

She believes that her paper can “be used for future research” in order to analyze the causes and “try to identify solutions to those disparities”.

Download the paper “The Determinants of Expansion of SMEs under a Partial Credit Guarantee Scheme: The Case of Lebanon” from the ERF website

 

Do Institutional Constraints on Policymakers work?

ERF 17th Annual Conference - Panel Plenary Session 2

ERF 17th Annual Conference - Panel Plenary Session 2

The second plenary session of the ERF 17th Annual Conference addressed today the question “Do Institutional Constraints on Policymakers work?”. Given the nature of the political regimes in the Arab region and the recent political uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, this session appears to be very relevant to understand the importance of institutional reforms and their potential impact on policy.

Ibrahim Elbadawi, Macroeconomic Research Department Director at the Economic Policy & Research Institute (EPRI) addressed the relation between fiscal rules, political checks and balances and democracy. In his presentation, he underlined how rule based policies are designed to protect and shield government fiscal policies from external economic shocks. However, the preliminary findings of his research suggest that, while democracy is very important for the MENA region and it has many virtues, it is also not enough to restrain governments. In this sense, checks and balances are needed as well.

Gary Milante, World Bank, presented the main findings of the “World Development Report 2011: Conflict, Security and Development”, to be published on April the 11th. The report looks at the effects of violence on development. This is the first report of this kind to address the interaction between the economic, political and security spheres.

Milante pointed out that 1.5 billion people live in countries affected by violence, which is significantly diminishing their capacity for economic and social development. The report argues that institutions can help to develop resilience against violence in these environments, especially by helping in insolating and protecting people living in such societies.

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