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.
In 2011, both Tunisia and Egypt were rocked by popular protests against economic and political repression that ended in the ouster of their authoritarian governments. Three years later, how much progress have these states made in reforming their economies? And what has happened to the entrepreneurs whose grievances helped fuel these revolutions?
Reforming the Entrepreneurship Ecosystem in Post-Revolutionary Egypt and Tunisia, a report from CIPE and Stanford University’s Center for Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL), attempts to answer these key questions. With this report, CIPE staff and IACE will engage policymakers and stakeholders in roundtable discussions to formulate policy recommendations in the coming weeks.
Working with CIPE Cairo staff and CIPE partner L’Institut Arabe des Chefs d’Entreprises (IACE) in Tunisia, lead researcher Amr Adly conducted an extensive study of existing literature and over 100 detailed interviews with entrepreneurs in each country to shed light on the obstacles and opportunities that comprise the entrepreneurial ecosystems in these post-revolutionary states.
The survey results paint a small yet detailed portrait of what life is like for the Egyptians and Tunisians trying to make ends meet in countries with increasing unemployment rates, among other worries. Dysfunctional and inaccessible regulatory structures, crony networks solidified by corrupt past regimes, and a lack of access to information for the private sector and policymakers are only a few of the areas for which Adly’s research provides nuance.
Who are the entrepreneurs that can withstand such an unstable environment? The majority of respondents in both countries affirmed that they do not trust formal contract enforcement, managed to start their business largely through self-financing due to a lack of access to loans, and endure high transaction costs as a result of inadequate institutions. They are men and women, younger and older, more or less educated, formally registered or informally operating, risking bankruptcy and/or jail time for a failed venture, running joint or solo endeavors—and they are all citizens for whom their government is not working.
Health care professionals in Egypt conduct a stakeholder analysis to help spell out governance principles for Egyptian hospitals.
A hip replacement in the United States, paid for out-of-pocket (i.e., without health insurance), would cost anywhere from $11,000 to $125,000, depending on what hospital you go to, according to a 2013 survey of 100 hospitals featured on National Public Radio. And that was among the hospitals that, when asked, could actually produce a quote – 40 of the 100 hospitals surveyed couldn’t quote a price at all.
Those fortunate enough to have insurance don’t need to worry about price-shopping. When I go to my primary care physician, I pay a $20 co-pay. (Under our previous insurance, provided by my wife’s former employer, it was $10. Why the difference? Who knows?) I have no idea how much my insurance company pays the doctor. I suppose I could find out, but… honestly? There’s really no compelling reason for me to do so. It’s $20 no matter who I see.
And it turns out that, even if there were more incentive for me to price-shop, more expensive hospitals aren’t necessarily better hospitals, according to a 2014 study.
Entrepreneurship is increasingly touted as a key ingredient to economic growth, job creation, and expanding opportunity, particularly for youth and women, in the Middle East and North Africa region. As a result, the number of initiatives supporting entrepreneurship in the region has increased exponentially, particularly following the Arab Spring.
Sally Roshdy was a CIPE-Atlas Corps Think Tank LINKS Fellow at the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED).
It was a great pleasure participating in the Think Tank LINKS Fellowship in Washington DC and serving at the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED). Once I learned that the accepted applicants would serve at an American think tank, I was very interested in applying to this prestigious fellowship. The first time I heard the term “think tank” was in my second year at the Faculty of Economics and Political Science at Cairo University when one of my professors emphasized the significance of think tanks and their role in helping decision-makers in all fields of public policy.
“Here’s why you have my undying support and friendship: you are doing what I take for granted all the time and forget sometimes. You are carving out the space for people to breathe and express themselves in a way that I think is incredibly admirable…”
– American Satirist Jon Stewart to Egyptian Satirist Bassem Youssef, April 24, 2013
Egypt has once again captured the world stage these past few weeks as millions of revolutionaries charged Cairo to demand President Morsi’s ouster and were supported by military intervention. As we continue to watch the events in Egypt unfold, many are resting their hopes on this revolution as a grand solution to the disappointments that lingered after January 25, 2011. In fact, in these past two years Egypt has focused primarily on fresh leadership to revive hope—a new father figure for Egypt who could keep the passions for democracy and unity burning after the streets cleared and the face paint washed away.
As Egyptians again search for a new authority, they must also address the deeper cooperative issues hindering democracy and prioritize stronger institutions to determine and stabilize the transition they seek. With strong civic and private sectors, the future of Egypt will no longer be determined by one Egyptian, but by all Egyptians.
Egypt has been in the process of rapid change since the fall of Mubarak in 2011. So far, the conservative Military and Muslim Brothers, in addition to an ineffective opposition, have failed to agree on a plan to transition to democracy. Moreover, democracy has been limited to episodes of conflict over the ballot box while disregarding its other essential components, such as freedom of association and the independence of civil society, which are inseparable from democracy.
According to the 2012 constitution, “Citizens have the right to form associations and parties only by notification, and they shall have a legal personality and said entities or their boards of directors may not be dissolved except by a judicial order.” Observers consider this article to be a breakthrough in the relationship between state and society in Egypt. Conversely, the new draft NGO law discussed by the Shura Council in April 2013 empowers the government to impose restrictions on civil society.
Before discussing the major concerns about this draft law, it is important to highlight the nature of the relationship between state and society in Egypt. Middle East observers need to be aware that the state-society order in the region is different than in established democracies. In Egypt, the society is trying to emerge out of a state and not vice versa. In other words, the state remains the dominant institution, not society.