[P4746] A new social contract for the MENA countries: Concepts, challenges and opportunities

Created by Markus Loewe
Monday, 11/20/17 1:00pm


For many observers of the countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), the so-called Arab Spring came as a surprise. It seemed that the 'old' social contracts of these countries, which were based on redistribution to compensate for the lack of political participation and accountability, did not work anymore: Demonstrators asked for both, more political voice and a more efficient and just distribution of government spending.

What is the result, however? Tunisia is apparently negotiating an entirely new contract. Syria, Yemen, and Libya have fallen into civil war, so that there is no more nation-wide social contract at all. However, what about Egypt, Bahrain, Algeria, Jordan, Morocco and Saudi Arabia? Do they have new or the same old social contracts as in the past? Are their social contracts sustainable, i.e. will they provide for stability and development, respectively: what forms do their new social contracts take? What should be the deliverables of the government and of society?

It is difficult to imagine that the new social contracts will bring democracy to all MENA countries, but is it possible to imagine new social contracts that are pareto-superior to the old ones, i.e. better for large parts of the population while at least not worse for governments - and hence helpful in bringing more stability into the MENA region? At the same, an even more important question is: How can the new social contracts come into being: How can they be initiated, negotiated, designed and established? And how can external actors support the process?

And finally: How about the conflict-affected countries (Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Libya)? They need new social contracts just like the 'surviving states' (Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan) but their quest for new social contracts will be more demanding because critical preconditions have not been met: these countries have to define first which actors are meant at all to participate in the negotiation of a new social contract. And in many cases, it will not only be internal actors who shape social contracts, but also regional and global powers with a strong impact on local proxy actors.

In any case, it is difficult to imagine that the MENA will become more stable again without renewed and better social contracts on the national and possibly even supra-national level.

The panel on "A new social contract for the MENA countries" addresses concepts, challenges and opportunities of these new social contracts from different angles.


Pol Science



Steven Heydemann

(Smith College)
Panel Participating Role(s): Organizer; Presenter;

Ariel Ahram

(Virginia Tech)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Markus Loewe

(German Development Institute (DIE))
Markus Loewe is research team leader at the German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE), Bonn, where he has been working since 1999. He studied economics, political science and Arabic in Tübingen, Erlangen and Damascus...
Panel Participating Role(s): Organizer; Presenter;

Georgeta Auktor

(University Erlangen-Nürnberg)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;