Democracy is necessary but not enough, says Arab Challenges report

Feb 19, 2012

Elections committee member registering a voter for the presidential elections in Sana'a, Yemen.

Cairo - A new report asserts that Arab progress towards democracy is contingent upon success in dealing with economic challenges, particularly social justice. 

The Arab Development Challenges Report 2011 was launched in Cairo Sunday with representatives from the Egyptian government along with academic and development professionals.

Despite being central to Arab uprisings, economic issues trail behind political concerns in the post-revolution public discourse between the state, civil society, and the international community. If economic challenges are not addressed properly, they risk thwarting Arab progress on democratic transitions.

“This report could not have come at a more suitable time, when the region is passing through a critical historical juncture,” said Paolo Lembo, Officer-in-Charge of UNDP’s Regional Centre for Arab States. “It goes beyond insightful analysis of social, economic and political exclusion to make specific and practical policy recommendations that can contribute meaningfully to debates—currently thriving in many Arab countries— on how to define the future.”

Going beyond numbers, the report examines the interrelationship between the political and socio-economic factors that underlie policy choices and the development results they produce for ordinary citizens. It observes that the development path followed in the Arab region has not managed to transform the region's natural wealth into sustained improvements for human beings.

The report attributes such poor performance to the corrupting influence of rents on the choice of development paths and governance relations. The politics of patronage practiced in the region weaken mutual accountability mechanisms that govern critical state-market-citizen relationships.

“The authors of the report made a considerate attempt to suggest realistic and practical policy options that new constituencies may find useful in formulating reform agendas,” commented Abdallah Dardari, principal advisor to the report.  “We wanted a report that could guide policy action—not another intellectual contribution to diagnosing the Arab development condition.”

In order to respond to the demand for dignity, social justice and freedom that reverberated across Arab streets since late 2010, the report argues that Arab states need to adopt a “Developmental state” model based on a new social contract of mutual accountability and shed the rentier-based political economy model.

This would allow states to become more responsive and accountable to citizens, and allow citizens to take a more proactive role in societal affairs while breaking the vicious pattern of dependence on the state that has been the hallmark of the Arab social contract.

The report argues for an end to the politics of patronage and redefining the relationship between the State and its citizens through forging a social contract of mutual accountability with genuine representation and meaningful taxation.

Practical policy recommendations are directed towards building an inclusive political structure and growth process with a pragmatic and developmental role for the State, along with immediate attention towards addressing rural neglect and sub-national disparities.

Contact information

Noeman AlSayyad, Regional Communications Advisor
UNDP Regional Centre in Cairo
Tel. (+20) 2-2770 2242; Fax. (+20) 2-27 73 6420

Khalid Abu-Ismail, Poverty/MDGs and Economic Policy Adviser
UNDP Regional Centre in Cairo
Tel. (+20) 2-2770 2254; Fax. (+20) 2-27 73 6420  

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