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Towards Inclusive Development for Conflict Prevention: Socio-economic and Political Repercussions of Macroeconomic Reform Policies in the Arab Region

Ben Guerir, Morocco

In light of a new wave of socioeconomic discontent in the Arab region, exemplified by the recent anti-austerity protests in Tunisia, there has been a reexamination of the relationship between economic reform and poverty reduction programs spearheaded by multilateral development banks, and the social and economic problems that countries have experienced.
Given the heterogeneous nature of Arab countries, the economic reform strategies originating from the Washington Consensus framework have been rather controversial in their effects in the eyes of many experts and practitioners throughout the region.

In order to explore the debate from multiple perspectives, solicit the views of experts from across and beyond the region, to come up with related policy recommendations, the Emerging and Conflict-Related Issues Division (ECRI) and the Economic Development and Integration Division (EDID) of the United Nations -ESCWA in collaboration with the Mohammed VI Polytechnic University (UM6P) and the Moroccan Association of Economists, are organizing an Expert Group Meeting (EGM) on this topic.
The objectives of the meeting include:

  • Explore how advocated liberal macro-economic policies impact development and socio-political stability and how to design policies that promote social justice, socio-economic, prevent conflict, and support the achievement of Agenda 2030;
  • Discuss key challenges associated with implementing structural reforms in the political and social contexts of the Arab countries;
  • Discuss lessons learned since the 2011 uprisings and share experiences and international and regional good practice examples on how to pursue inclusive economic and social development, in order to avoid conflict eruption or relapse.

Some analysts argue that the promotion of neoliberal policies starting in the 1980s contributed to the social grievances that contributed to the 2011 Arab uprisings by binding countries to macroeconomic policies, which did not achieve the much advocated sustainable development or poverty alleviation goals, but rather benefited international and local elites while failing large segments of the population, in particular the working and middle classes, resulting in mounting poverty, increasing inequality, and growing marginalization, as exemplified by high unemployment rates and lack of social services.

On the other hand, the argument has been made that the success or failure of liberal policies and reform depends largely on how these policies are rolled-out (e.g. timing, sequencing, coverage), and on political-economy factors within the country attempting to reform, such as local buy-in, the strength of economic institutions, domestic political dynamics, or the availability of natural resources.