Category Archives: Middle East and North Africa

Reforming the Entrepreneurship Ecosystem: A Study on Barriers to Growth in Tunisia and Egypt

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The popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt in 2011 were sparked by citizen frustration based on a range of grievances including lack of opportunity, dissatisfaction with local governance, corruption, and unemployment. The public self-immolation by Tunisian informal entrepreneur, Mohamed Bouazizi, was a shocking demonstration of the frustration and hopelessness felt by some sectors of society and led to calls for political and economic reforms to address citizen grievances. Today, however, North African economies still urgently need economic reforms to promote greater economic inclusion and provide opportunities for youth.

The Center on Development, Democracy, and the Rule of Law at Stanford, in cooperation with CIPE, has conducted a survey of 131 Egyptian and Tunisian entrepreneurs and business owners to find what that the greatest barriers are to the growth of businesses in these countries. As Global Entrepreneurship Week comes to a close, CIPE is releasing an Economic Reform Feature Service article by Amr Adly about the study to contribute to the continuing conversation on supporting entrepreneurs around the world.

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Egypt’s New Suez Canal Project Unearths More Than Just Dirt

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Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government is counting on a new multi-billion dollar Suez Canal project to help overcome what has been described as Egypt’s worst economic crisis since the 1930s, with high unemployment — 13.4 percent — and 45 percent of the population living below the international poverty line of $2 per day. Yet, what’s more important than the new Suez Canal’s objective to stimulate the economy and create jobs is who made it financially possible to carry out such an ambitious project and what that could mean for Egypt.

In eight days, Egyptians invested 64 billion EGP (about $9 billion) in the new Suez Canal project — and 82 percent of that investment came from individuals versus just 18 percent from institutions. The influx of investments introduced 27 billion EGP (about $3.8 billion) into the banking system, which is especially notable given that only one in ten Egyptians has a bank account. The overwhelming turnout of individual, cash-heavy investors from an underbanked population points to Egypt’s strong cash economy, which in turn begs the questions: how much more money is hiding under mattresses and why have these assets remained unused?

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To Benefit from Energy Resources, Lebanon Needs Better Institutions, Not Just Greater Transparency

A map showing the offshore areas being opened to oil and gas exploration. The auctions have been repeatedly delayed.

A map showing the offshore areas being opened to oil and gas exploration. The auctions have been repeatedly delayed. (Photo: Deloitte)

By Sami Atallah

A paradox confronts countries endowed with oil and gas resources. Despite their riches, these countries tend to grow slower in the long term, have higher income inequality, be more corrupt and even become authoritarian. This, of course is not the fate of all such countries — many have managed to turn the oil curse into a blessing. Those that did had two things going for them: a high level of human capital and good institutions that upheld checks and balances on power.

Although Lebanon is well endowed with human capital, its institutions are generally weak. The Taef agreement redistributed power more equally across the three key institutions — the presidency, the parliament and the prime ministership — that are associated with the three dominant sects, and in many ways, undermined the political system.

For one, the executive authority became diffused to an extent that it is no longer obvious who is in charge. The members of the parliament seem less interested in legislating and holding executive authority accountable and more interested in providing services to constituents. The political parties have mastered the game of electoral survival by crafting election laws through redistricting and vote counting in ways that get them reelected with little to show for. They have resorted to clientelistic strategies of buying votes and providing services in return for political loyalty. Furthermore, the judiciary and the oversight agencies whose job it is to hold the government accountable were at best sidelined but most often intentionally weakened through political interventions or bureaucratic understaffing.

In sum, the political elite govern the country largely by the logic of dividing the spoils among themselves through illegal subcontracting of projects, violating tendering requirements, as well as contracting companies despite conflicts of interest. This has resulted in high levels of corruption, embezzlement, mismanagement and waste benefiting the political elite at the expense of the rest of the population.

It is against this backdrop that the Lebanese Petroleum Administration (LPA), the body entrusted to govern the oil sector, came into being. Between November 2012 and August 2013, the LPA proceeded rather efficiently and with more transparency than most Lebanese institutions in approaching the sector. It held consultative meetings and workshops, and managed to lay the groundwork for the launch of the offshore licensing round. Now it is waiting on the government to pass the last decrees for the process to continue, and has found itself caught up in the Lebanese political mill with no clear way out of the deadlock.

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Getting Creative about Saying “No!” to Corruption in Lebanon

Graffiti art produced at LTA-LABN’s public rally held in the Beirut Souks, September 12, 2014.

Graffiti art produced at LTA-LABN’s public rally held in the Beirut Souks, September 12, 2014.

CIPE partner the Lebanese Transparency Association (LTA) recently wrapped up a banner month in its fight against corruption in Lebanon. CIPE’s partnership with LTA dates back over ten years, and since 2012 CIPE has been supporting LTA through a grant from the U.S. Department of State’s Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) to strengthen the rule of law in Lebanon. Our approach has been not only to raise public awareness, but also to empower citizens to exercise their rights. This effort has been consolidated primarily through the Lebanese Advocacy and Legal Advice Center (LALAC) and the Lebanese Anti-Bribery Network (LABN), both of which are housed and managed by LTA.

LALAC operates centers in Beirut, Bekaa, and Nabatieh, which are staffed by attorneys and legal assistants who field complaints of corruption from citizens across Lebanon. Through LALAC, citizens can report corruption by calling the LALAC hotline, writing a letter or e-mail, or visiting one of three centers in person.

LALAC Legal Advisor Carol Sabty, LTA Grassroots Manager Said Issa, and the author (center) discuss LALAC’s capabilities in the fight against corruption during an outreach session with citizens in Kfardebian, Lebanon.

LALAC Legal Advisor Carol Sabty, LTA Grassroots Manager Said Issa, and the author (center) discuss LALAC’s capabilities in the fight against corruption during an outreach session with citizens in Kfardebian, Lebanon.

Since CIPE’s direct support for LALAC began approximately one year ago, LALAC has achieved an unprecedented level of activity. A total of 453 complaints have been made during that time, 277 of which directly relate to corruption. In 224 cases, LALAC has provided citizens (“clients”) with legal advice on the process of vindicating their rights (short of providing representation in court) and sought resolution with cognizant public institutions.

If LALAC were a law firm, it would be doing a brisk business. But LALAC doesn’t bill its clients. It exists to empower the victims of corruption as champions for reform and to hold public officials accountable. LALAC has already worked directly with more than 15 public institutions to achieve resolution of individual cases and achieved some notable successes. Moreover, LALAC is negotiating memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with numerous public sector entities to cooperate in resolving complaints of corruption – remarkable progress in a country where openly talking about corruption was taboo not long ago.

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Assessing the Business Environment and Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Egypt and Tunisia

Members of Tunisia's business community share their concerns at a March 2014 policy roundtable.

Members of Tunisia’s business community share their concerns at a March 2014 policy roundtable.

We know that North African economies urgently need economic reforms, opportunities for youth, and greater economic inclusion. But what do we know about where the opportunities lie and – just as important – what are the greatest barriers that obstruct the growth of businesses?

A few salient insights emerged from a recent survey of 131 Egyptian and 100 Tunisian entrepreneurs and business owners, which was conducted by the Center on Development, Democracy, and the Rule of Law at Stanford in cooperation with CIPE. Many of the findings will come as no surprise — the business environment and entrepreneurial ecosystems have room to improve in both countries, and political uncertainty puts a drag on business. One major, policy-relevant finding is the need to address disparities in access to opportunity.

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To Escape From Violence, Iraq Must Tackle Its Economic Problems As Well As ISIL

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Smoke billows from a key oil refinery damaged by ISIL attacks in northern Iraq in June. Repairs are expected to take more than a year.

After months of political wrangling in Baghdad and advances made by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) – also known as IS or ISIS – the Iraqi Parliament finally approved a new, more inclusive government led by a new prime minister, Dr. Haider al-Abadi, in early September.

At a recent roundtable event with Iraqi and U.S. experts, held under the Chatham House Rule, participants expressed cautious optimism over the new government. However, in the uphill battle to confront immediate threats to the country’s security, Iraq’s economic crisis has largely been ignored.

According to one participant, the fact that the new cabinet of ministers included members of Iraq’s various minority groups, and that three leading political rivals – former Prime Ministers Nouri al-Maliki and Iyad Allawi and former parliament speaker Usama al-Nujaifi – were given posts as vice presidents, was a good sign.

Another in the room pointed to the moderate leadership of Iraq’s new Prime Minister. Dr. Abadi, who belongs to the Shi’ite Islamic Dawa party, has a reputation as a political moderate, was educated in the UK, and has served on various Iraqi parliamentary committees since 2006, including those for finance and economics. A change in political leadership at the top, the participant argued, could rebuild trust between the central government in Baghdad and Iraq’s marginalized communities. More importantly, Abadi has pledged to foster national dialogue, political reconciliation, and decentralization.

Iraq’s economic challenges – high unemployment, poverty, rising prices, and food shortages – will only contribute further to the security crisis if they are not addressed. More than 50 percent of the goods imported into Iraq – including raw materials and food – have been blocked at the only official border crossing with Jordan, which is now under the control of ISIL. Iraq’s final budget for fiscal year 2014 remains unapproved by the Iraqi Parliament, and since the economy is dominated by the public sector – the government and state-owned enterprises employ about half of Iraq’s total workforce – the lack of government spending has ground the entire economy to a halt.

At the end of the day, ordinary citizens in Iraq are bearing the brunt of economic damages caused by the regional insecurity and the political process in Baghdad.

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Training Political Parties for Democracy

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A new Congress is inaugurated in Colombia.

Strong and well-functioning political parties are an essential component to any thriving democracy.  Political parties link citizens and their governments, represent the interests of constituents, and influence economic policymaking. In any political system, a party’s capacity to influence policy determines its success, so party platforms are instrumental for parties to participate effectively in the discussion and implementation of policies.  The party platform outlines a set of policy alternatives that the party seeks to implement.  The economic component of a party platform is crucial to create and implement policies that deliver economic growth and opportunities to people.

The ideas presented in political party’s economic platform will influence the operation of businesses and shape national economic policy. These platforms are not static documents as they continually evolve and respond to the challenges a country faces at a particular moment in time.  Successful political parties will be ready to revise and adapt the economic component of their platforms to changing economic conditions. Training political parties to not only develop solid economic platforms but to revise and respond to ever changing economic conditions is an important initiative in the efforts to support thriving market oriented democracies.

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