Category Archives: Middle East and North Africa

Democracy that Delivers Podcast #22: Babak Yektafar on the Economic Situation in Iran and What Drives Regime Policies

Podcast hosts Ken Jaques (right) and Julie Johnson with guest Babak Yektafar (left).

Podcast hosts Ken Jaques (right) and Julie Johnson with guest Babak Yektafar (left).

CIPE’s Iran expert Babak Yektafar discusses the current economic situation in Iran and how the regime controls information and policies to stay in power. Yektafar talks about how the economy has been damaged through mismanagement, Iran’s entrepreneurial youth culture and their hopes for the future, and what the government needs to do to make it easier for Iranians to start and grow businesses. He also discusses the government’s control over the flow of information within the country and explains how an “Expediency Council” works to ensure the regime stays in power.

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What Good is Economics as a Science, if Not Based on Field Studies?

Reem_Abdel_Halim

By Dr. Reem Abdel Haliem

This post originally appeared in Arabic on the CIPE Arabia blog.

I currently work with CIPE partner the Federation of Economic Development Associations (FEDA) on a study to bring Egypt’s informal sector into the formal one. Since there are number of studies on this topic, FEDA chose to focus its study on producing a guide – more of a roadmap – that outlines practical steps to facilitating the informal sector’s formalization.

A series of focus groups based on a robust methodology was a must to achieve sound findings and to draw evidence-based conclusions. Through those focus groups, we formed a logical and comprehensive understanding of the problems that the formal sector faces, so to grasp the disincentives that make the idea of formalizing unattractive to the informal sector. Formal sector operators face these problems almost on a daily basis and with a variety of local and national government authorities. This understanding could not be reached through a typical literature review.

Through my experience in the focus groups and with drafting this roadmap, it became clear to me that with the right field research tools, grasping the on-the-ground reality makes policy recommendations more accurate and relevant to addressing the stakeholders’ needs and, as such, makes these recommendations of higher value to the state and the general public.

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The Tunisian Business Community: Still Working to Keep Tunisia’s Democracy on Track

A forum held by IACE in May 2016. (Photo: Kapitalis.com)

A forum held by IACE in May 2016. (Photo: Kapitalis.com)

By Ali Ayadi, Pam Beecroft, and Brenna Curti

In 2015, Tunisia’s business community, government and civil society worked together to overcome a series of political and security crises that almost derailed their grand democracy experiment, and won a Nobel Prize for their efforts.

Now it is the economy that needs an intervention. Instead of transforming and growing, it has been sliding backward. The Tunisian dinar is losing value, public debt is mounting, inflation continues to rise, and unemployment grows daily. Corruption and cronyism are rampant, spreading injustice and slowing growth even more.

As Tunisians lose faith in their leaders, discontent is fueling new social unrest. Violence and terrorism have added new layers of economic woes, virtually wiping out tourism and resulting in $4 billion for economic recovery being diverted to cover national security needs.

It is no exaggeration to say that Tunisia’s democratic future hinges on fixing all this. For one thing, if citizens are worried about basic survival, they cannot focus on elections and civic groups and all those other things that keep leaders accountable and democracy vibrant. For another, Tunisia needs the spirit of enterprise itself – economic dreams, hard work, innovation, and entrepreneurship – to create the prosperity citizens need.

That is why CIPE’s long-time partner, the Arab Institute for Business Leaders (IACE, in French) has joined with one of the Nobel prize winners, the Tunisian Union for Industry, Commerce and Crafts (UTICA), as well as the Tunisian Union for Agriculture and Fisheries (UTAP) and the government, to get Tunisia’s economy back on track. With CIPE support, they have launched a “National Business Agenda” (NBA) – a CIPE process that helps the private sector consult local businesses, identify economic priorities and advocate government to improve the economy through reforms.

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CIPE Arabia: Expert Interview with Dr. Ahmed Fikry Abdel Wahab

Ahmed_Fikry_Abdel_WahabThis post originally appeared at CIPE-Arabia in Arabic.

In a brief interview with CIPE-Arabia, Dr. Ahmed Fikry Abdel Wahab shared some of his thoughts on the pervasive informal sector in Egypt.  His concerns center on the potentially negative consequences a large informal sector has on competitiveness, market values, and norms and quality of products.  Abdel Wahab explained that while one might not necessarily describe the competition between the formal and informal sector as dishonest, it could easily be described as unfair.

Unlike informal businesses, formal enterprises have higher costs, which are reflected in the pricing of their products.  In order to be able to compete, some enterprises compromise on the quality of their products thereby creating negative impacts on the industry and the overall market, as well as undermining consumer rights and the competiveness of the Egyptian products in the global market.  He acknowledged that informal businesses suffer from marginalization, lack of access to credit, and meager opportunities for training, advancement and business relations. Abdel Wahab also noted problems faced by informal enterprises in terms of limited market size, attributing this issue to the quality of their products, which are often not fit for export because they do not meet the minimal quality standards.  As a result, all these factors create unfair conditions with consequences for both sectors as they generate unhealthy competition, negatively impact the market, and undermine the foundations of industry and its values and norms.

Following is a summary of the main points raised by Abdel Wahab during the discussion.

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Fostering a Spirit of Entrepreneurship in Bahrain

Bahrain graduates

For the past four years, the Center for International Private Enterprise has been working in partnership with the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs to assist local partners in Bahrain with fostering a new spirit of entrepreneurship. The program approached this issue from two tracks: the first educated young aspiring entrepreneurs on the leadership and business skills needed for a successful initiative, and the second worked with the private sector and government entities to examine the environment for entrepreneurship and suggest necessary changes to legislation and regulations to make it easier to start and grow a business in Bahrain. As the program comes to a close, there are many outcomes to be celebrated that will likely impact Bahrain’s business environment for years to come.

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Small Business in Egypt: the Heavy Burden of Following the Rules

Sayed Diab makes his living providing sound systems and digital services for events like this CIPE discussion. (Photo: CIPE Egypt)

By Ahmed ElSawy

This post originally appeared in Arabic on the CIPE Arabia blog.

Sayed Diab spent 26 years of his life working as a technician supplying organizations with sound systems and related digital services for their events and conferences. Six years ago he started his own business in this field and has since made his living providing his services to CIPE, other NGOs, business associations, and think tanks in Cairo, Egypt.

Diab recently sat down for an interview about his experiences running his own business in Egypt and what he has learned as a small business owner from the many CIPE events and discussions he has worked on.

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Democracy that Delivers Podcast #9: CIPE’s Abdulwahab Alkebsi on What’s Needed to Build Democracy in the Middle East

Podcast hosts Ken Jaques and Julie Johnson with Abdulwahab Alkebsi (right).

CIPE Regional Director for the Middle East and Africa Abdulwahab Alkebsi’ s passion for democracy work goes back to his childhood in Yemen.

In this podcast, Alkebsi discuses how his childhood in Yemen informs his democracy work today, the success of Arab Americans and Muslim Americans in the United States, in contrast to the situation in Europe, and the need for a reassessment in the Middle East of what Islam is and what it is not.

He also talks about the correlation between the institutions that build the Islamic faith and those that build democracy, what is happening on the ground in the Middle East today that makes him hopeful for the future, and the exciting contribution the private sector is making to building democratic institutions in Africa.

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Listen to past episodes of our show here.

Like this podcast? Please review us on iTunes to help other listeners find the show!