Opportunities for Economic and Political Inclusion in the Arab Spring

Jun 3, 2011

In recent months, millions of people came onto the streetsof a number of Arab States demanding change.

In Tunisia and Egypt, these uprisings led to the downfall ofregimes. In Libya, intense conflict continues. Elsewhere, many lives have alsobeen lost as regimes and their opponents have faced off against each other.

Underlying these events are economic exclusion which hasdenied decent work and opportunity for many, and political exclusion which hasdenied a broad right to participate in the decision-making processes whichshape nations' futures.

These two exclusions have been felt most acutely by theyoung in the Arab States. They suffer rates of unemployment which are twice theglobal average for youth.

Yet, across all age groups, there has been a pent-up desirefor dignity, justice, and a say in the decisions which shape people's lives.

Human Development

In 2002, UNDP began publishing Arab Human DevelopmentReports, which focused on the lack of inclusion and opportunity in the region.

These reports identified major human development challengesfacing Arab countries on issues from governance to women's empowerment, humanrights, access to education and other services, and human security overall.

Their central message was clear: reform is necessary andshould not be delayed. Yet as recent events have demonstrated, reform wasdelayed, and the uprisings which have occurred have been hugely costly to humanlife.

The factors overall which have driven the uprisings are notunique to the Arab States. To ensure peaceful transitions, advancing botheconomic and political inclusion is crucial.

Economic Inclusion

So often, impressive rates of economic growth have not ledto significant reductions in poverty or the creation of decent work. To achieveinclusive growth, the sectors and regions where poor people live and work willneed to be targeted.

In countries rich in natural resources, the growth generatedhas often been in extractive industries, creating too few jobs and too littletax revenue for the developing country, thereby limiting its capacity to liftits human development status.

Smart strategies are now needed for nations to benefit morebroadly from their national endowments -- with spinoffs for jobs, microbusinesses and SMEs, technology transfer, infrastructure, and tax revenues.Having strong and capable institutions and having leadership committed to humandevelopment helps.

Around the world, youth unemployment rose in the wake of theglobal recession. The cost of that is borne not only by young peoplethemselves, but also by economies and societies as a whole.

Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor who set himselfon fire in December, dramatically and tragically expressed the desperation manyyoung people have felt, unable to get ahead in a system they felt was stackedagainst them.

UNDP stands ready to assist with the design of quick winpolicies to address unemployment, particularly for youth. In Tunisia, we arecurrently designing training for youth in a province whose economy has beenbadly affected by the Libyan crisis, and are involved in a joint UN programpromoting youth entrepreneurship. In Egypt, we have been promoting job creationthrough the development of small and medium enterprises and promotingmicro-credit schemes. We will soon be helping to design a public works programto address short-term economic recovery challenges

Political Inclusion

When the economic scales tip against significant numbers ofpeople, and there are few opportunities to influence the direction one'scountry is taking, the conditions for upheaval are created. As we have seen insome of the Arab States, people have revolted against repression, exclusion,injustice, and loss of dignity.

Now that broad-based popular movements are forcing politicalchange, opportunities exist to build more inclusive societies, economies, andgovernance systems.

As Tunisia embarked on its transition, including electionsfor a Constituent Assembly in July, UNDP has been helping to lay the groundworkfor a functioning democratic system. As requested by the new authorities,support is being given to establishing the new Electoral Commission and to thedevelopment of political parties. Work is being done on the new civil societylaw, and on the development of a national strategy against corruption.

In Egypt, UNDP is organizing a forum in Cairo on June 4thand 5th for a broad cross-section of Egyptians to share experiences with peoplefrom other regions of the world which have gone through democratic transitions.We are supporting the formal multi-party national dialogue process, and helpingidentify ways to encourage young people to participate in the processes whichshape their futures and nation's future.

We are also mobilizing support for the development of theelectoral process, the human rights architecture, anti-corruption mechanisms,and the decentralization and local governance agendas. We can offer expertiseon the process of asset recovery and security sector reform.


There are moments when historic, transformational change ispossible. This is one of those moments in the Arab States.

Change must be driven by the peoples of Tunisia, Egypt, andother countries embarking on transitions. UNDP stands ready to support them inthat process, and in meeting their aspirations for a better life and moreinclusive economies, societies, and governance.

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