Today at Bruegel—one of the leading European think tanks—we exchanged views on the way forward for the Middle East and North Africa countries one year after the Arab Spring. Jean Pisani-Ferry (Director, Bruegel) chaired a discussion focused on EU-MENA integration to jump start growth and job creation in the MENA region. Various experts reflected on the current European approach to foster greater regional integration with and within the MENA countries.
As Egypt embarks down the road of electing a new President, Egyptians are going to have to go to the polls again. But, this time they won’t be voting for someone to represent their district in Parliament, they will be voting for their new President. Let me be clear about the context here: I have never met an Egyptian who voted for anything until the post-revolution parliamentary vote. But, voting for a Parliamentarian is one thing, voting for your new President is something else entirely. To me the whole thing seems rather daunting.
Following a recent live web chat about the challenges facing the Middle East and North Africa region, our Vice President Inger Andersen observed to what great extent education had become a prominent regional issue with a sharp focus on quality, participatory school management, and the role of the private sector. Let me start in this blog with education quality. More to come on the other issues. Since their independence, Arab countries have made formidable progress in providing access to education, fighting illiteracy and reducing gender disparities.
We’ve just hosted the Middle East and North Africa Forum bringing together international and regional experts to focus on the important topics of governance, employment and inclusive growth in this open moment for region. Fear and hope were the dominant emotions in this turbulent period. Fear of the unknown, fear of repeating the mistakes of failed transitions, fear of continued unrest in some parts of the region. And, hope for a better future, a future built on dignity and inclusion, hope for peace and prosperity in the region. Few talked of a return to the compromises of the past.
Since my Blog on regional integration, I have been thinking about the possible role of an Arab Development Bank in the region, especially but not exclusively to spur regional and global integration. Colleagues who know a thing of two about the region, economic development and Arab organizations had mixed views. Some liked the idea, others thought the idea not very useful, especially since it is often voiced and then shot down. The feeling was that yet another institution would be confusing and redundant.
Since the revolutionary spirit seized the Arab World about a year ago, I could not help asking what, for me at least as a health professional, was the obvious question: how much did the voice of protest have to do with the deep dissatisfaction among vast segments of the population about the parlous state of their health systems? Scanning the blogs and tweets from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region didn’t help. The outpourings there concerned mainly employment and education.
Successful democracies need more than elections, according to Professor Roger Myerson of the University of Chicago. They need a steady supply of politicians with good reputations for responsible leadership. While this may seem an obvious conclusion, the question of how politicians develop track records is a critical one. It is especially critical for societies in transition, with no tradition of competitive elections. In his opening remarks to the MENA Chief Economist Forum on Economic and Political Transitions, Professor Myerson looked beyond processes such as elections to the very structure of democratic systems and how they determine outcomes.
For citizens of the Arab world – and probably most especially young citizens – the post-revolution era has seemed a bit of a cold shower; the obstacles daunting; the heady moments of people power faded; and the question for some perhaps whether there even was a revolution. In this context it’s empowering to hear the voices of recent history from elsewhere in the world and fascinating among them is Dewi Fortuna Anwar from the Vice President’s Office in Indonesia. She is steeped in her country’s history of independence, democracy, and dictatorship.
It’s so uplifting to walk into a room that’s crackling with energy. I was a little late for the opening session in Rabat today for a workshop focused on Supporting Citizen-State Engagement in the Arab World. That’s ok, I thought, forgiving myself a little too easily, it’ll take a bit of time to warm up. How wrong I was: some 90 people in the room from seven different countries across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) – Egyptian, Jordanian, Lebanese, Moroccan, Tunisian, Palestinian and Yemeni teams. The debate was whipping around with everyone pitching in about whether this workshop should be open and transparent.
The year 2011 will be remembered as the year of the Arab Spring. Revolutions brought new governments to Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, while a number of other governments in the region introduced important reforms. The peoples’ demands are clear: democracy, dignity, better governance, and a more inclusive growth model. Now is the time to deliver. Yet, the political, economic and social developments are shifting and it is not clear how the population’s heightened expectations can be met.