Debating the Future of Reform in MENA

07.08.2008

With inflation and political backtracking competing with trends of economic growth in the Middle East and North Africa, the link between economic and political reform has increasingly come under scrutiny in the region.  It was a prevailing theme in the recent roundtable that CIPE held for key partners from Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, and Yemen in Hammamet, Tunisia.

Leading private sector organizations from around the region shared successful reform approaches, focusing on entrepreneurship, advocacy, public-private dialogue, and corporate governance.  Many of these programs underscore the need for institutions that promote better economic policies and expand growth dividends across a broader segment of society. 

It was interesting to see partners not only share their experiences but also discuss broader questions of democracy and economic challenges confronting the region.  It was especially striking to be able to openly discuss democratic values and reform in the highly regulated environment of Tunisia, highlighting again how economic growth concerns provide a unique opportunity to engage civil society and the public sector on larger questions of political and institutional change.

Additionally, remarks by the Iraqi participants on how the roundtable allowed them to interact with counterparts from the region and made them realize that they are not alone and isolated in their challenges, was a forceful reminder of how civil society in Iraq is not only confronted with the daily challenges of security but of knowledge barriers that are sometimes underestimated. This highlighted even more their great strides in developing a national advocacy program which has now inspired the Algerians who are themselves just recently emerging from a debilitating civil war. 

Another interesting issue was that of foreign investment and the problem of profit repatriation.  This promoted an impromptu discussion among a number of participants on the role that the private sector needs to play in improving the business climate in order to provide foreign investors with an incentive to keep the profits in their countries. 

Many participants also remarked on the fact that this was the first time a donor organization had solicited their input in strategy sessions on the challenges and opportunities that they face and what it could do to help them leverage opportunities. This again was an important reminder of the need to engage local stakeholders not only at the programmatic level but also in donor strategies for the country or region. 

Finally, the roundtable provided a unique opportunity for CIPE partners and staff to connect and cement relationships, whose impact cannot be underestimated in a region composed largely of relationship-based societies, where stakeholders are motivated as much by their ability to trust external partners as in the technical and financial support they provide.