Arab Human Development Report 2022: Expanding Opportunities

Arab Human Development Report 2022: Expanding Opportunities

Arab Human Development Report 2022: Expanding Opportunities for an Inclusive and Resilient Recovery in the Post-Covid Era

Post-Covid Recovery, an opportunity to boost development in the region. Responsive governance, more diversified economies, inclusive societies, and a green transformation critical to achieving sustainable, inclusive development and prevent future shocks and disasters

29 June 2022

 

 

The report contends that a sound recovery from the impact of the pandemic in the region will require a concerted effort to protect the vulnerable, empower citizens, strengthen human rights, ensure the rule of law, and make systems more effective and responsive.

UNDP PAPP

 

 

New York – As they pursue pathways to recover from the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, Arab States should strengthen capacities and build effective and trustworthy institutional structures that can support a new social contract and enable societies to cope with future shocks and disasters—according to the Arab Human Development Report (AHDR) 2022 that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) launched today.

“Many countries in the Arab States region are still struggling to contend with the devastating socio-economic effects of COVID-19, now compounded by an unprecedented global food, energy and finance crisis that is being precipitated by the tragic war in Ukraine,” says Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator. “This new report analyses how countries across the region can get hard-won human development gains back on track through concerted efforts in four key areas. That includes building diversified and competitive economies; shaping accountable and responsive governments founded upon the protection of human rights; nurturing inclusive and cohesive societies; and driving forward a green recovery with sustainable human development at its core.”

Produced by UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Arab States (RBAS), the AHDR 2022 is entitled “Expanding Opportunities for an Inclusive and Resilient Recovery in the Post-Covid Era.” It is the seventh in the AHDR series, marking 20 years of keen analysis of development challenges and opportunities across the Arab States region since the launch of the seminal AHDR in 2002.

The report reviews impacts of the pandemic on human development across the region, as well as actions taken by Arab States to contain the outbreak and mitigate its most adverse impacts on people and the economy.  The AHDR 2022 argues that getting human development back on track in the post-pandemic era will require greater efforts to make governance systems more accountable and re­sponsive, economies more diversified and competi­tive, and societies more cohesive and inclusive—in order to ensure a resilient recovery for all.

“The Arab States region has been experiencing various vulnerabilities and is notable for a diverse range of development contexts– but the rapid onset of the global pandemic challenged all to varying degrees, presenting new challenges, and exacerbating vulnerabilities. But as the report tells us, vulnerabilities are not our destiny” said Khalida Bouzar, UNDP Assistant Administrator and Director of RBAS. “Full of potential and brimming with innovative efforts, the region adopted many positive response measures that could be expanded and scaled-up beyond the Covid response. Knowledge and solutions to tackle the region’s challenges exist. Many are known and have been tested and shown to work. Our collective endeavour now is to create the conditions to allow these efforts to blossom and reach fruition.”

The AHDR 2022 contends that human ca­pabilities and human freedoms are enhanced by ac­countable and responsive governments, diversified and resilient economies, and cohesive and inclusive societies. Hence, the report’s focus on examining impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and measures adopted to contain its implications across the spheres of governance, economy, society, and the environment—considering underlying long-standing development challenges that the region has struggled with prior to the pandemic.

Trust in government is critical to Covid response

The report observes that the efficacy of responses to the pandemic across the diverse development contexts in the region was related to levels of institutional capacity and coordination between government agencies.

For example, Gulf Cooperation Council governments succeed­ed in bringing the pandemic outbreak under control, displaying an average recovery rate that was significantly higher than the global aver­age. Middle-income countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Tunisia were relatively successful in handling the first wave of the outbreak but loosened their control afterward. Countries in crises had limited capacity to mitigate impacts of Covid-19 outbreaks because of the destruction of their health in­frastructure, displacement or migration of health-care workers, breakdown of social relations and accumulating economic challenges.

During Covid, limited trust in government institutions was reflected in pushback against Covid-19 containment measures and high rates of vaccine hesitancy, a trend observed across different regions globally.

The report also notes that some governments expanded their executive pow­ers through emergency regulations to respond to Covid-19 and protect communities from its impacts. This was sometimes done, given the rapidly evolving context, with limited oversight mechanisms in place. Some put in place new meas­ures that affect civic freedoms, including regulations that expanded digital surveillance of citizens in certain instances. Others applied greater controls of free expression and the media, including social media, under the guise of fighting misinformation. The report cites that the percentage of citizens who believe that freedom of speech is guaranteed to a great or medium extent has declined by 20 percentage points since 2016, from 63 percent to 43 percent in the region.

Rising debt levels may last for a while

The report underscores that the region’s economy contracted by around 4.5 percent in 2020, with fragile and conflict-affected countries experiencing the larg­est average drop—around 15 percent. Despite positive signs at the end of 2021, the report notes that an ac­celerated recovery in 2022 is unlikely, given emerging challenges facing the region. With an average expected growth rate of 5.5 percent for the whole re­gion, driven mainly by the performance of oil-exporting countries, economic growth may continue to be challenging.

During the first year of the pandemic, existing large fiscal deficits widened further across the region, with falling revenues, due to dwindling oil demand, and rising financing needs for containing the pandemic and its economic impacts on households and businesses. In 2020, the average overall deficit widened by 7 percentage points, to 9.2 percent of GDP, while in 2021 the region’s average fiscal deficit narrowed to 2.3 percent and is expected to turn into a surplus of 4.1 percent of GDP in 2022.

Large fiscal deficits have increased government debt, worsening an already vulnerable debt position. In 2020, the region’s overall average government debt peaked at 60 percent of GDP, up around 13 percentage points from 2019. Over the medium term, government debt as a percentage of GDP is projected to rise sub­stantially and remain above 2019 levels for the ma­jority of countries in the region. Net flows of foreign direct investment (FDI) to the re­gion fell by 6 percent in 2020.

In 2021, unemploy­ment rose to 12.6 in the Arab States region, more than double the world average of 6.2 percent. Female labour force participation rates were among the lowest in the world, at 20.3 percent in the Arab States region in 2019. Women’s unemployment rate remained at 24 percent the Arab States region, still three to four times the world average.

In 2021, the region had the world’s highest youth unemployment rate (15-24 years old), at 28.6 percent, rising steeply from 25.3 percent in 2019. The unemployment rate among young women was also the highest in the world, and over twice the figure among young men, reaching 49.1 in 2021 from 44.7 percent in 2019 (compared to 23.8 percent among young men in 2021 and 20.8 percent in 2019).

It is important to note that many of these challenges mirror global trends in the currently volatile context, with a slump in global growth forecast for 2022 and growth across many regions decelerating even further than in the Arab States region.

Widening inequalities

The pandemic has led to widening existing inequalities and exacerbated exclusion, particularly from access to healthcare and education. The report points out that prior to the pandemic, inadequate public financ­ing had placed the burden of healthcare on patients. Out-of-pocket spending averaged 28 percent of household spending in the region, compared with 18 percent worldwide—but with significant var­iations from a low of 6.6 percent in Oman to a high of 81 percent in Yemen.

This reflects the severity of the impact of the pandemic, given this increasing burden was witnessed despite the Arab States region being one of the only regions in the developing world to increase health spending as a share of GDP in the decade prior to the pandemic.

Large percentages of the region’s sizeable refugee and internally dis­placed populations experienced greater difficulty getting medical care during the pandemic outbreak. Host governments in the Arab States re­gion did not include refugees in their national Covid-19 plans, with the notable exception of Jordan.

Following the pandemic outbreak, school closures and the transition to distance education led to the exclusion of significant segments of society. For example, only 55 percent of surveyed children who were enrolled in education in Algeria, Egypt, Jor­dan, Morocco, Qatar, Syria, and Tunisia prior to the pandemic were able to access some form of remote learning after schools were physically closed. Access to distance learning has been higher among students in private schools than public schools. Major inequali­ties in internet access between and within Arab States meant that school closures had a disproportionate negative impact on more vulnerable households, rural and marginalized communities, including refu­gee and IDP children and children with disabilities—increasing the risk of child labour and early marriage among girls.

The report highlights that prior to the pandemic, the inadequacy of care policies, social care service provision, and gendered social norms have contributed to women’s disproportionate burden of unpaid care work in the region, with women devoting 5.1–6.2 times more time than men to unpaid care work in West Asia and North Africa, which is much higher than the world average of 3.2 times. Consistent with global trends, the pandemic has led to a rise in unpaid care responsibili­ties in households across the region, with most of the burden falling on women. The report also records the alarming trend of rising rates of domestic violence targeting women associated with pandemic-induced mobility restrictions, finan­cial stress, and disruptions in access to support services.

Many of these challenges are also witnessed across multiple regions. Governments in the Arab States could take advantage of the current multiple crises to ensure that the recovery promotes sustainable and equitable development.

Opportunity for a green transition

The report estimates that the pandemic resulted in a 5 percent increase in water demand in 2020 for intensified hygiene practices, adding pressures on already scare water supplies across the region, where 18 of the 22 Arab States face serious levels of water scarcity and the average person receives just one-eighth of the global average renewable water per person. The report calls for prioritizing improved water governance and enhanced waste management as key components for post-Covid recovery to be sustainable and resilient.

The AHDR 2022 views with optimism, a growing momentum in the region to diversify beyond the fossil fuel economy and accelerate the transition to renewable energy and energy-efficient solutions. The renewable energy sector has been the only segment of the Arab energy market to experience notable growth, due to its cost-effectiveness and strategic value for carbon-constrained economies. The report singles out solar energy as a strategic asset for diversifying energy consumption, enhancing energy security and building the knowledge-based, high-tech, youth employment–generating economy of the future.

Mainstreaming green solutions into recovery strategies of Arab States is an important opportunity, which can help the region slow negative ecological change and build resilience against future shocks. The report suggests that Global summits can be instrumental in studying the challenges of climate change and envi­ronmental degradation and advancing tangible solu­tions, as with the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conferences of the Parties (COP) that will be hosted by Egypt in 2022 (COP27) and the United Arab Emirates in 2023 (COP28).

Glimmers of hope

The Report records notable examples of positive responses to the Covid-19 pandemic across the Arab States region. It points to instances where rapid gov­ernment action mitigated some of the worst devel­opment impacts. This included adopting stimulus and support packages to support domestic economic activity; providing direct relief to enterprises, particularly small and medium ones; and financing measures to protect workers through paid leave, unemployment benefits and cash transfers, especially targeting informal workers.

The report also notes successes with effective governance solutions in response to the pandemic, such as the adoption of swift coordination measures to ensure multi-sectoral responses involving nationwide whole-of-government responses in high-income Arab countries. Similarly, other countries adopted arrangements to allow for inclusive participation of local government, civil society, private sector, and communities in national response plans, expanding authorities of local government to take measures to ensure continuity of essential services and to identify and reach out to vulnerable groups.

The report also traces how social solidarity movements and civil society organiza­tions quickly mobilized in response to the pandemic’s challenges, filling gaps in awareness raising, expanding community outreach efforts to help cushion the adverse impacts of the pandemic on the most marginalized and vulnerable groups, and unleashing the power of frontline volunteers to complement strained health and social services systems.

Many governments in the region effectively resorted to digitalization of services in response to Covid, using innovative technologies in such areas as the fast delivery of cash transfers for social protection; telemedicine; safeguarding the continuity of essential public administration services; securing educational continuity through online learning alternative solutions; facilitating remote and tele-working; and ensuring inclusive outreach for vaccination.

A human-development-centred recovery

Covid-19 started as a public health emergency that quickly deteriorated into an economic, social, and human emergency that required whole-of-society responses with strong coordination between responsible govern­ment agencies and meaningful collaboration with private firms, civil society organizations and international organizations.

The report contends that a sound recovery from the impact of the pandemic in the region will require a concerted effort to protect the vulnerable, empower citizens, strengthen human rights, ensure the rule of law, and make systems more effective and responsive. Countries of the region need new social contracts that pave the way to peace, justice, and stability, leaving no one behind, building more resilient, inclusive, accounta­ble and trusted institutions, and expanding human capabilities and freedoms.

The AHDR 2022 underscored that post-Covid recovery presents an opportunity for countries to evaluate and strengthen capabilities and make structural changes to prevent and cope with emerging shocks, including a looming global food crisis, and diminishing international resources for development financing, both related to the current war on Ukraine, as well as future shocks and disasters.

The report’s recommendations for an integrated and human-development-centred approach to recovery include:

  • Investment in enhancing accountability and responsiveness of governance systems and structures, through inclusive and participatory processes to rebuild citizens’ trust in government, strengthen freedoms, human rights and the rule of the law, and leave no one behind. These processes should engage local governments, the private sector, civil society, and citizens, as well as expand the role of local govern­ments in responding to citizen’s needs, delivering services, and combating poverty and inequality.
  • Fostering economic diversification and resilience, by focusing investments on high-productivity goods and services, expanding exports through greater integration with global value chains, and tackling persistent unemploy­ment and labour mar­kets challenges through promoting job creation in the private sector, with decent working conditions, especially for women. This also entails improving the investment climate, strengthening public financial management through enhanced tax man­agement, and boosting social spending to protect the poor and vulnerable.
  • Enhancing social cohesion and inclusion, through inclusive and equitable access to quality social, health and education services; pursuing social cohesion and consensus-building initiatives; enabling greater civic participation and negotiation in the workplace; promoting gender-responsive laws and investing in care policies and services; and ensuring inclusion of marginalized and vulnerable groups in all aspects of the recovery, especially women, migrants, refugees and people with disabilities.
  • Ensuring that recovery pathways are green, through accelerating and scaling-up clean energy transition initiatives; expanding green transportation and infrastructure in­vestments; closing gaps in water and waste services; incorporating circular economy solutions into local development; and advancing ecological restoration and safeguards for biological systems. The report underlines that, if prop­erly planned, green recovery measures can help diversify economies and contribute to growth, generating new and sustainable forms of revenue, creating green job opportunities, and enhancing resilience for commu­nities and the ecosystems on which they depend for people’s lives and livelihoods.

For inquires please contact: Noeman AlSayyad | Communication Advisor | UNDP-RBAS | noeman.alsayyad@undp.org | +962(79)5672901

Read the original UNDP article.


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Lebanese voters are signalling a desire for change

Lebanese voters are signalling a desire for change

Lebanese voters are signalling a desire for change as generally witnessed and felt by all after the country’s latest parliamentary elections. 

Lebanese election sees significant gains for independent non-sectarian politicians

By John Nagle, Queen’s University Belfast and Tamirace Fakhoury, Aalborg University

Lebanese voters are signalling a desire for change, with Hezbollah and its allies losing ground across the country in a parliamentary election.

Just as the recent election in Northern Ireland brought a boost for the non-sectarian Alliance Party, Lebanon’s election saw significant gains for political representatives untethered to sectarian politics. Like Northern Ireland, Lebanon’s political system is set up to share power. Its new parliament will have various sectarian blocs, revolving around Hezbollah and rival party Lebanese Forces, and a sizeable non-sectarian group campaigning on economic issues, social justice and accountability.

Hezbollah, a pro-Iranian Shia-based party, emerged in 1982 largely in response to Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. It gained prominence after the end of Lebanon’s civil war (1975-1990) and its share of parliament seats started rising in the 2000 elections. After the departure of Syrian troops from Lebanon in 2005, its alliance with key political players such as the other Shia-based political party, Amal, and the Christian-based Free Patriotic Movement allowed it to gradually block major policy processes deemed detrimental to its interests such as negotiations on its demilitarisation.

The Hezbollah bloc has lost ground to rivals across the spectrum. Results indicate that the pro-Thawra opposition candidates have made significant gains, capturing up to 13 seats. The Thawra name harks back to October 2019, as the state’s economy went into freefall, when an uprising of ordinary citizens, often called the Thawra, campaigned for all sectarian leaders to resign and for rights for foreign domestic workers, women and LGBTQ+ people.

In this election, the Lebanese Forces party has used widespread anger against Hezbollah and its allies to increase its number of parliamentarians. Lebanese Forces has positioned itself as the main faction willing to contest Hezbollah in the power-sharing government.

Opposition gains have been secured even in areas traditionally seen as Hezbollah strongholds. In 2018, Hezbollah and its allies won 71 seats, making it the biggest faction in the parliament. Hezbollah emerged from Sunday’s election weakened as many voters blame the party for hindering an independent investigation into the Beirut port explosion which killed more than 200 people.

This national election took place as Lebanon struggled with a series of crises beginning in 2019, including an economic meltdown that left more than 75% of the population below the poverty line, in what the World Bank ranks as among the three most severe economic collapses anywhere since the 19th century. The country is also dealing with the aftermath of the port disaster. More recently Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has pushed millions close to starvation because of Lebanon’s heavy dependence on Ukrainian wheat.

Relatives of victims of the August 2020 Beirut port blast carry their pictures during a protest near the port. Reuters/Alamy

Lebanon’s political power-sharing system is deliberately designed to protect the entrenched interests of the state’s powerful sectarian leaders. All seats in the 128-member parliament are reserved on a sectarian basis and the powerful factions have often functioned on behalf of other powers, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia.

For its supporters, the power-sharing system gives guarantees of political representation to the main groups and ensures that no faction can control the government.

Critics point to a number of drawbacks with the system. Some Lebanese people are reliant on their sect leaders to distribute basic services, such as healthcare. Lebanon is further crippled by paralysis and dysfunction, with the government rarely passing any new laws.

Yet, despite many barriers to change, we may be beginning to see cracks in the system to allow anti-sectarian and independent opposition candidates to emerge as a serious force in Lebanon.

In recent years, hundreds of thousands of Lebanese have voiced dissent by taking to the streets to demand an end to the state’s corrupt leaders, branded by protesters as “thieves”.

While the protests eventually ran out of steam, it built a platform for a political movement that has now gained independent parliamentary seats.

While it is tempting to suggest that Lebanon’s election has ushered in significant change, caveats are required. Voter turnout was 41%, lower than in 2018. This may point more to apathy and disillusionment than hope.

Obsolete electoral laws have not kept pace with people’s lives, and may have been a factor in the low turnout. In Lebanon, people must vote in the constituencies where they were born. With fuel prices rising and a crumbling transportation system, many could not travel to their birthplace hours away.

This result could lead to political stalemate and confrontational power-sharing. The parliament could turn into a polarised arena where parties with opposing agendas are supposed to share power. The main factions are likely to disagree on the new speaker of parliament and on the allocation of executive ministerial positions, making it difficult for the council of ministers to address the disastrous economic situation.

Factions are also likely to disagree on the new presidential candidate set to replace current president Michel Aoun five months from now at the end of his term.

Yet there is still room for optimism. The success of these independent candidates demonstrates that anti-sectarian politics can succeed in an environment designed to prohibit it flourishing. Unlikely breakthroughs in sectarian strongholds represent notable and exceptional gains.

Independent candidates have not had the array of tools at the disposal of the major sectarian parties. They do not have the economic clout to court votes or have links to powerful media networks to echo their message. They also can’t ask for support from powerful states, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia. Their candidates are more likely to be harangued and attacked by sectarian factions.

Nevertheless, their victory in Lebanon’s elections has powerful implications. It is one of the key achievements of the 2019 Thawra movement, a landmark episode that many had dismissed for not having achieved very much.The Conversation

John Nagle, Professor in Sociology, Queen’s University Belfast and Tamirace Fakhoury, Associate Professor of Political Science, Aalborg University

Read the original article.
The Conversation

Iraq food protests echo early stages of the Arab Spring

Iraq food protests echo early stages of the Arab Spring

Iraq’s discontent has like for most countries of the MENA, been there for all to see. In effect, many of these depend on Russia and Ukraine, the two warring parties for their wheat supplies. How to fix that or how to begin fixing it is not exactly a downhill walk in the park. Here is Bamo Nouri‘s explanation.

Iraq food protests against spiralling prices echo early stages of the Arab Spring

Iraq has been seeing protesters take to the streets as food prices spiral upwards because of the Ukraine war. Around 500 people protested in Iraq’s southern city of Nasiriyah a few days ago as flour suddenly rose in price by nearly a third. With food-related protests subsequently taking place in Albania and Sri Lanka, the ripple effects of the war are spreading.

Iraq’s markets were largely unaffected by the surging inflation in months gone by. But Iraqi officials have confirmed that the Russian invasion has massively increased the cost of the region’s food and is also causing shortages. Flour prices are up from IQD35,000 (£18.29) for a 50kg sack to IQD45,000 (£23.52), rice by 10%, and cooking oil has doubled in price. Iraqi consumers have been stocking up fast because of fears of further shortages and price rises, and Iraqi traders have capitalised on the situation to increase their profits.

Iraq food protests echo early stages of the Arab Spring
Unrest over food prices is growing. EPA

The Iraqi government has already put measures in place to tackle shortages, distributing food to those in most need, as well as rationing food during the upcoming month of Ramadan. Rapid government measures also include a monthly allowance of around US$70 (£53) for pensioners with incomes of less than one million Iraqi dinars (£522) per month to help them afford food, as well as for civil servants earning less than half a million Iraqi dinars.

Additionally, a temporary suspension of customs charges on consumer goods, construction materials and international food products has been introduced for a period of two months to help keep prices down. In Iraq’s Kurdish region, the Kurdistan regional government has introduced emergency measures including store closures in Erbil, the region’s capital, to stop rogue traders overcharging.

Turkey and Iran restrict exports

Imports from Russia and Ukraine, two of the world’s largest exporters of energy and agricultural products, have been massively reduced. The situation has also been exacerbated by neighbouring Iran and Turkey, which according to Iraqi sources have restricted food exports to Iraq to prioritise their own national stocks.

Despite Iraq being part of what is known as the fertile crescent, a region famed for its high-yielding farmland and access to water, a series of interventions in the last three decades have depleted the area’s water supply and crops. These range from Saddam Hussein formally drying out Iraq’s marshes, to water flow restrictions from Turkey and Iran causing severe drought. These events had already put pressure on Iraq’s agriculture sector and reduced internal production of food.

Iraqis have been holding demonstrations regularly since the US occupation of 2003, mostly against government corruption, the lack of basic services, mass unemployment and in recent years the interference of Iran. Iraq’s latest prime minister, Mustafa Kadhimi, an independent, was elected after protests in October 2019 as Iraqis rejected the old parties. https://www.youtube.com/embed/O2_PUPyzvqY?wmode=transparent&start=0 Food protests in Iraq.

Distrust in the political system continues. In Iraq’s latest October 2021 Iraqi parliamentary elections, the lowest-ever voter turnout in post-2003 Iraq was recorded at 41% – creating a legitimacy crisis for Iraq’s yet-to-be-announced next government.

A legacy of the US occupation of Iraq is an elitist political system. Iraq’s political leaders compete to portion out the country’s income, giving favours to friends and family.

The key issue is that there is no clear progressive national government strategy, which in turn severely impedes development and weakens the Iraqi state, especially in the face of challenges such as global food price rises. However, what makes this particular protest noteworthy is that it comes at a time when all governments may be expected to do more to support their populations as prices spiral worldwide.

Protests start to spread

Given that two of the key drivers of the Arab Spring were the high cost of food and other goods, and restricted access to water, the latest protests may have worldwide significance. Iraqis may be the first in a global movement of protests over price rises as the Russia-Ukraine conflict continues.

Albania became the first country to follow in Iraq’s footsteps with protests, then Sri Lanka, amid warnings from the World Bank that Ukraine war-related inflation could drive other protests and riots.

While some other governments have already intervened with subsidies, there is also an argument that energy providers should act more responsibly in such times of crises. For example, Exxon, Chevron, BP and Shell recorded their highest profits in seven years in 2021, which they attributed to surging oil prices as post-pandemic demand increased but suppliers struggled to keep up.

The cost of food has provoked outrage throughout history. The 2007 and 2008 food crises triggered riots in Haiti, Bangladesh and Mozambique. Even in the French revolution, when Parisians stormed the Bastille on July 14 1789, they were not just looking for arms, they were looking for grain to make bread.

Highlighting these important lessons from history to drive more responsible government and corporate power may be pivotal in preventing political unrest and instability. There is little doubt that both governments and corporations need to do more to make sure that food is affordable for their citizens, or face the consequences.

Bamo Nouri, Research fellow, City, University of London

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation

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Tackling corruption is focus for MENA in 2022

Tackling corruption is focus for MENA in 2022

The MENA countries where socio-political monopolization is fundamentally due to low levels of democracy and obscure political transparency have generated over the years Corruption. All attempts to strengthen business integrity and fight corruption were in vain. Chatham House‘s post on the subject of Tackling corruption is the focus for MENA in 2022 is worth going through. Here it is.


Integrity is central to the development of competitive and open economies in which growth and opportunities are sustainably and equitably distributed.

To tackle corruption in the MENA region, the international community must prioritize accountability over stability.

Tackling entrenched corruption will be a key focus of the political discourse in the Middle East and North Africa in 2022. International policymakers will look to anti-corruption as a framework that can be used to help stabilize conflict countries, support economic reform, or to pressure adversarial regimes. Pressure to deal with corruption also stems from popular anger in countries that suffer from poor governance as corruption can have very serious – even fatal – consequences, as the deadly hospital fires Iraq suffered last year illustrate.

Corruption can have very serious – even fatal – consequences, as the deadly hospital fires Iraq suffered last year illustrate


Across the region, anti-corruption processes are meant to signal accountability. However, they can also be weaponized by elites to consolidate power and target opponents, particularly in countries where the political system itself is built on politically sanctioned corruption. This makes anti-corruption efforts unlikely to succeed. These dynamics highlight the need for international policymakers to develop strategies that promote accountability and transparency over the long term instead of prioritizing political expediency.

Anti-corruption efforts not what they appear

At first glance, anti-corruption processes underway across the Middle East and North Africa appear to suggest that states in the region are serious about combatting graft. In Libya, a recent wave of arrests by the attorney general has seen two sitting ministers, a former deputy prime minister and a former head of a state-owned investment vehicle detained on charges of corruption. In Iraq, the commission of integrity and the prime minister’s special committee have arrested dozens of former and current officials on charges of corruption.

Across the GCC, governments are seeking to double down on their economic diversification plans. Against the rising tide of nationalism and populism, anti-corruption efforts will feature as part of a good governance agenda that serves a domestic audience by targeting elites and patronage networks. The UAE is the GCC’s most nimble economic player and leads the pack in efforts to stamp out corruption. In Lebanon, political competition and initiatives by members of the judiciary have resulted in investigations of alleged corrupt practices by the heads of major state institutions such as the central bank.

The case of Lebanon has clearly illustrated that appeasing elites does not deliver stability, and countries such as Iraq and Libya could potentially face a similar fate.

But appearances can be deceiving. In none of these countries have anti-corruption efforts led to meaningful change. In Libya, past efforts have petered out and officials have all too rarely faced trial, let alone been convicted. There is little to suggest this round will be any different as the government is unlikely to support the attorney general’s cause. In Iraq, this year’s top story will be the protracted government formation process following last year’s elections – a process rife with politically sanctioned corruption as the usual cast of characters come together to negotiate their share of power and money. Despite the 2019 October revolution that called for reform of Iraq’s ethno-sectarian political system (muhassasa), not much has changed.

Saudi Arabia, which is pushing ahead with its Vision 2030 targets, has an anti-corruption agenda but will face challenges in connecting its legal framework and process, led by the Oversight and Anti-Corruption Authority (Nazaha), with realities on the ground. Many sectors suffer from a lack of transparency when it comes to decision-making, yet the importance of personal and social connections (wasta) remains high in Saudi society.

Weaponizing anti-corruption processes

The darker side of the anti-corruption drive is the weaponization of such processes, whereby corruption allegations can be used to settle political scores, especially by those who are politically dominant. In Lebanon, this can be seen in the growing standoff between the governor of the central bank and Hezbollah and its allies, who see him as a political opponent.

The darker side of the anti-corruption drive is the weaponization of such processes, whereby corruption allegations can be used to settle political scores.

In Iran, under pressure from US-imposed sanctions, President Ebrahim Raisi will continue to promote anti-corruption measures to demonstrate good governance and accountability to help distract from the economic pain of sanctions. However, these efforts will by no means root out entrenched corruption. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and various parastatal entities have used predatory sanctions-busting strategies to ensure their economic survival, while crowding out the private sector. Without meaningful reform of the economic system, the government will likely see more protests and unrest.   

The scale of the challenge facing the international community

There is no doubt that these problems will be difficult to tackle. Corruption stretches far beyond the upper levels of government. Where corruption has become politically sanctioned, such as in Iraq, the elite has shifted its focus away from formal government roles, such as cabinet ministers, who are now by design independent and technocratic, but weak. Instead, the key to state power has become the almost 1,000 senior civil servants under the special grades scheme, who do the elite’s bidding in government ministries and agencies without any transparency or accountability. They may not be the minister in charge, but these director generals and deputies make the decisions when it comes to government contracts and procurement, helping to generate huge sums of money for those whose interests they serve.

Any successful anti-corruption strategy must go beyond sanctions on individuals to address the core of the problem – the economic system of governance.  

The international community have opportunities to address some of these entrenched problems this year. But its record to date is mixed. In Libya, the international community’s credibility on corruption has been greatly damaged by it prioritizing stability over accountability. A long-awaited audit of the Central Bank of Libya drew ‘no conclusion or determination’ over ‘any fraud or misappropriation’, while a UN report into allegations of vote-buying at the UN-created Libyan Political Dialogue Forum that selected the current government has not been made public. These developments have only strengthened the impression that Libyan officials enjoy impunity. As the Libyan political process is reshaped in 2022, measures to ensure accountability and transparency must take a much more prominent place in the architecture of international efforts.

Lebanon is perhaps the greatest test of the international community’s commitment to tackling widespread graft. In need of an economic rescue plan to reverse the severe depreciation of its currency and decline in GDP and foreign reserves, there is hope that a deal with the IMF and international assistance could materialize this year. The IMF and international bodies like the EU insist that any aid will come with conditionality regarding reforms, but there are fears they may soften their stance. They must hold firm. If their current position softens, this will damage both Lebanon and the credibility of the international community.

The international community must prioritize the legitimate grievances of MENA citizens, rather than pleas by entrenched elites to help maintain ‘stability’. The case of Lebanon has clearly illustrated that appeasing elites does not deliver stability, and countries such as Iraq and Libya could potentially face a similar fate.

Any successful anti-corruption strategy must go beyond sanctions on individuals to address the core of the problem – the economic system of governance. 

The image above is of Image — A man checks electrical wires in Baghdad, 13 September 2017. For years Iraqis have denounced the bad management and financial negligence that have stifled the country and let its infrastructure fall apart. Photo: AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP via Getty Images.

Authors:

Tim Eaton, Senior Research Fellow, Dr Lina Khatib, Director, Dr Renad Mansour, Senior Research Fellow, Project Director, Iraq Initiative and Dr Sanam Vakil, Deputy Director and Senior Research Fellow, all of Middle East and North Africa Programme.

Two Thousand Dinars: A Lamentable Legacy

Two Thousand Dinars: A Lamentable Legacy

Two Thousand Dinars: A Lamentable Legacy By Nejoud Al-Yagout is a story that is fairly common to all countries of the GCC.

The picture above is for illustration and is of the Parliament of Kuwait.

First, we heard that residents above the age of 60 would not be allowed to renew their residencies if they did not hold a college degree. Then, after outrage on social media (by locals, to be sure, since any outrage by a resident would lead to arrest or deportation), there was talk that the rule may not be implemented; instead, we heard that those who came up with the decree would, at least, reconsider the age bracket, perhaps hiking it up to residents over 70 years of age (which in and of itself is lamentable).

Then, it was back again to 60 a few months ago, but with a proposal to fine residents annually (that is when talk of KD 2,000 arose). This latter proposal brewed for a while until it was announced only recently – in the midst of a pandemic, in the throes of increased unemployment and suicides and drug-taking and crimes, and in the whirlwind of murders and corruption – that the Public Authority of Manpower would “allow” residents above the age of 60 who do not hold university degrees to renew their residency provided they pay an annual fee of KD 2,000; as though by making it look like a favor, a permission granted, so to speak, the harsh brutality of the cost of remaining in Kuwait would seem less pronounced, brushed under the rug.

Though already considered official by all of us who read about it in the news, it appears that the “decision” needs a couple more weeks, perhaps, to be considered bureaucratically official, unless a person with strings will use his position of power to take a stand against it. The likelihood of such a selfless act transpiring is well, let’s just say, unlikely. Highly unlikely.

Although many residents above 60 who have graduated from college may have breathed a collective, perhaps even audible, sigh of relief, many others will be in tears, for they have parents and siblings aged 60 and above who live with or near them and who do not hold college degrees, and they themselves, holders of college degrees, will not be able to afford such a fee to keep the family together. And what about us locals? We cannot ignore the two-thousand-dinar elephant in the room.

Many of us who work in the public or private sector, with or without university degrees, or even with Master’s degrees and PhDs, would not ourselves be able (or willing) to pay such a lofty fee. Two. Thousand. Dinars. Imagine. And if we think this will not affect us, we are wrong. “They” are us! They, who we consider expatriates and foreigners and residents are us. We are them. We are one in this society. All of us. Each one of us, a thread of the same fabric, interwoven. What hurts us hurts them and vice versa. Let this register for all of us. Again and again and again.

There are residents in their sixties who were born here and have lived here their entire lives; residents who do not want to go “home” because their “home” is here, in Kuwait, where they belong, with us. Kuwait is the land in which they want to be buried, in which their parents were buried. After all their years of service to our country, we are now showing them the door under the pretext of making rules we know people cannot implement, all so that residents can leave of their own accord.

But they will not leave of their own accord. Ever. They will leave because neither they nor their university-degree-holding families were able to pay such an outrageous sum; they will leave because they are tired of living in a country that does not want them here. So many have left already; others are waiting for the right moment to leave. Others are waiting anxiously to see whether things will get better (or get worse).

We cannot stay silent. We cannot. And the last thing residents need is sympathy; if we are to feel sorry for anyone, we should feel sorry for ourselves for who we have become. Instead of patronizing them with our sympathy, residents should be applauded for their resilience, their bravery, and their contribution. They should be rewarded; they should be given more benefits as time elapses, not less.

We have a lot to learn from them. Even while many are treated as second-class members of the community, they stay, they work, and they support their families. This rhetoric of residents profiting from us is immature and arrogant; we must remember they are doing us a favor, a huge one, by being here as well. We are in this together; and in a healthy community, that is how things work; we give and we take; we take and we give.

Some residents may still find a way to stay here, in their home. But with this new “fine,” there is no way they can save money or help their families. And how can we sleep at night knowing we are creating obstacles for residents to send money back home? How can we sleep at night knowing that there is no money to pay for a parent’s kidney transplant or a relative’s tumor removal or a child’s education because the money is being paid to an oil-rich country instead? What principles are we building our foundation on?

These are certainly not our principles. And as long as we hold on to these pseudo-principles, we will continue to create laws which protect us and ostracize others, laws which are far, far away from the values of our heritage, founded on hospitality and inclusivity. Aren’t we tired of this us vs them attitude? Do we really want a Kuwait for Kuwaitis? Is this our legacy? Can’t we remember who we are?

It’s done. All we can do now is lament and ensure we resurrect a new Kuwait based on the ideals of our welcoming forefathers who never flinched at demographics. All we can do now is remember that what goes around comes around. This is a law. It is not a doomsday prophecy, but a warning, an invitation to recalibrate, a chance, an opportunity, to restore the karmic balance.

This is our chance to wake up and ask ourselves: Is this our legacy? And we should ask ourselves this question every night. That way, we can rectify the situation before karma knocks on our door. Loudly and fiercely. Two thousand dinars. Let’s remember that number. For it may come back to haunt those of us who stayed silent, those of us who spoke out for justice only when it came to our rights and, often, at the expense of others.

local@kuwaittimes.com