The fourth and last session of the workshop’s first day had a special focus on economic and social policies, and the efficiency of democratic reforms.
The session introduced two papers by Eberhard Kienle (CNRS Paris/IEP Grenoble) and Pierre-Guillaume Méon (Université Libre de Bruxelles). In his paper, Kienle examines the economic and social policies in Tunisia and Egypt in the aftermath of authoritarianism. Despite the intricacy of the Arab spring, it seems fair the assumption that large scale popular protests and the related transformation of political regimes were prompted by a combination of socio-economic and political factors. In a nutshell, authoritarian government had over years and decades prevented numerous actors to articulate their grievances in ways that would have allowed alleviating and addressing them effectively. Many of these grievances were related to socio- economic developments that widened the gap between income and opportunities on the one hand; and expectations based on past experience, official propaganda and comparisons with the outside world on the other.
Kienle challenges the idea according to which democratic regimes guarantee that such potential is actually translated into practice. In fact, and alike authoritarian regimes, democracies may fail to meet the expectations of the ruled. Less repressive by nature, they may even be challenged more quickly and more easily than their authoritarian predecessors or counterparts. According to him, the most important challenge for elected rulers in Tunisia and Egypt, besides the establishment and consolidation of democratic rules, is the formulation and implementation of economic and social policies that avoid past errors, and improve or secure the welfare of all within a broadly accepted framework of social justice.
Looking at the Tunisian case, the current governing party may disintegrate along economic and social cleavages among its members. As a result, this may be divisive to the extent of deteriorating the unity built around moral and religious norms. As for the Egyptian one, following the fall of Muhammad Morsi, Muslim Brotherhood may want to escape this type of disintegration.
According to Kienle, two implications arise from the fact that economic and social policies of newly elected governments do not differ much from those pursued by their authoritarian predecessors: the entire uprisings in 2010 and 2011 were perhaps not that much about economic and social issues as it has often been portrayed; uprisings may have been about economic and social issues but the governments that were elected did not take these issues seriously and managed to marginalize those who were interested.
Watch our interview with Eberhard Kienle
Watch our interview with Pierre-Guillaume Méon