For many, the Arab Spring represents the promise of a more just and democratic Arab world. The “Arab Development Challenges 2011” report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) warns that without significant economic improvements and an increase in social equality, it will be difficult to manage the democratic transitions of the Arab Spring.
The report was presented at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut by Mohammad Pournik, Poverty Practice Leader at UNDP-RCC, Noha El-Mikawy, Middle East Director of Ford Foundation, Abdallah Dardari, director of the Economic Development and Globalization Division at UN-ESCWA and Paolo Lembo, director of UNDP Regional Center in Cairo. Carnegie’s Paul Salem and Ibrahim Saif moderated.
One of the underlying assumptions of the report was that the root cause of the Arab Spring was the collapse of the failed social contract based on revenue distribution in exchange for political acquiescence, explained Noha El-Mikawy. This system has instead generated profound inequality and, since it is solely supported by volatile energy resources, is not sustainable in the long run, she added.
The statistics available to economists are deceiving because they do not necessarily take into account the full picture of political and economic exclusion in the Arab world, asserted Mohammad Pournik. He explained that a deficit of alternatives forced the report’s authors to use some indicators they know are inadequate at best, but added that they tried to consider those indicators in a wider social context.
The report does not prescribe a specific political model as necessary for economic growth, explained Abdallah Dardari. Instead, it advocates a competitive economic system based on human dignity and inclusion and stresses the importance of mutual accountability between the states and their citizens.
The report is cautiously optimistic, acknowledging that significant problems face the region but contending that with appropriate action the region can be on its way to correcting existing imbalances. In particular, it notes that development strategies that have not worked previously may prove more effective now, because the Arab Spring has ushered in new political dynamics.
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