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النسخة التجريبية من موقع النهضة العربية (أرض)

Experts and thinkers warn of the continued consequences of the COVID19 crisis on the future of the Arab world Social Protection in the Arab World Regional Dialogue Series Third Session


On Tuesday, 29 April 2020, the Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (ARDD) held the third virtual session of its Regional Dialogue Series on social protection, titled “COVID-19 and the Future of the Arab World.”The moderator of the series, H.E Senator Dr. Sawsan Al-Majali, introduced the session by sharing that it aims to address the central questions related to the future of the Arab world after this crisis, and the fate of its people. She posed an initial question as to what the social and political responsibilities of Arab states are. This was followed by focusing on the role of think tanks and research centers in the Arab world, what their roles are at this stage and what they may be in the future, and whether or not they can have a proactive role with respect to the pandemic.

The panelists in this session were H.E. Dr. Marwan al-Muasher, the Vice President for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Diplomat, and former Jordanian deputy prime minister and foreign Minister, Dr. Dina Al Khawaga, Director of the Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship at the American University of Beirut, and Professor Zaid Eyadat, the Director of the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan and Chairman of the ARDD Board of Trustees.

In discussing the role of international research centers in predicting the Coronavirus pandemic, and with regard to the Carnegie Institute in particular,, Dr. Muasher said, “The Institute did not foresee the Coronavirus crisis, but for years, it has constantly warned against the way things are managed in the Arab world.” He added that he does not foresee the world recovering from this crisis for at least the next ten years. Additionally, he stressed that the rentier system that relies on the oil economy without production needs to be changed, affirming that the lack of good governance and resource management was one of the main reasons for the 2011 revolutions in the Arab world. He recognized that the Jordanian state has been successful in containing the crisis in the short-term, and now different tools are needed to manage the effects of the crisis and other components of public life in the medium and long term. He further stressed that while they have been useful in a short-term emergency context, security measures are not the only measures needed for effectively combating COVID-19 because security measures will not be able to ensure economic and social recovery. He concluded by asserting that participatory decision-making is crucial in moving forward, stating that “Social distancing does not mean political distancing; it should instead be followed by more political participation.”

From a regional perspective, Dina El-Khawaga shared that “The Asfari Institute does not work in the field of public health or the hard sciences, and therefore did not specifically predict the pandemic.” She added, however, that the institute is working on a research project that addresses the reformulation of the state’s relationship with society in the context of the pandemic and beyond. This, research spans across 6 Arab countries and seeks to analyze five main issues, namely: 1. access to health care and rethinking it not a commodity, but rather as part of the legal responsibility of the state; 2. the relationship of the state with the labor sector and employment; 3.monitoring mechanisms and control imposed by the state over citizens; 4. the relationship of the state with the market and; 5. the issue of governance with regards to the relationship between  the state and society. She expanded on this by highlighting that this research is also intended to shed light on the correct role of the government, in light of fears that the state will impose more control over its citizens. El-Khawaga also emphasized that the role of the research centers is not limited to addressing Arab decision-makers, but rather includes arming the youth by building their capacities with various experiences and methodologies related to accountability in order to strengthen their active role in decisions concerning their future.

In the context of Jordan, PhD. Eyadat shared that the Center for Strategic Studies has been engaged since the initial phases of this crisis, as decision makers have been very interested in the Center’s research outputs. He added that the Center has contributed to educating and spreading knowledge about the Coronavirus Crisis, and the role of the government in responding to the crisis. He also mentioned a research project that the Center is currently carrying out, titled “Jordan beyond Corona,” which examines the various challenges and aspects of the crisis such as economic policies, administrative policies, geopolitical and social impact, and healthcare and health insurance.

In discussing the challenges that are facing the Arab world, the speakers indicated that the region has consistently been dealing with crises for more than half a century, and suffering from inequality, unemployment, narrow interests of wealthy elites, and the complicity of governments with these elites – recognizing that these factors have caused major changes in societies throughout history, especially in the absence of social justice. In addition, in the absence of political participation and social dialogue, the speakers recognized that challenges are rooted in a crisis of trust between people and their governments in the Arab world. They also added that the crisis has unveiled that those living in poverty all countries, whether they are considered wealthy countries or not, are the most affected, and that social protection is as important as ever.

As for the recommendations related to the preparedness of Arab countries in the case of future pandemics, Eyadat stressed the importance of focusing on addressing hunger, poverty, and unemployment as the most dangerous risks for the future of the Arab world – especially for the Middle class – and warned that these things can lead to violence, conflict, and unrest if we do not recognize and address both the circumstances that preceded this pandemic and the future effects of it. Accordingly, he added that it is necessary to work on developing decisive policies  because this pandemic has not only highlighted the absence of social justice but also inequality in power, resources, and in the ways that these power and resources are distributed.

Additionally, El-Khawaga said that the pandemic is not a wasted opportunity, and presents a chance to hold governments accountable in two ways: 1. in terms of the political context that allowed for dealing with the pandemic as strictly a health crisis and exerting excessive control and; 2. In relation to the cost of the social crisis of the pandemic that must take into consideration economic status and relevant challenges. She stressed the need to overcome these challenges structurally, and to rebuild trust between the citizen and the state.

Al Muasher stressed that the current challenges should not be solved by seeking short-term, funding related solutions, but rather must include the establishment of self-reliant economy capable of dealing with future crises. He added that transparency in government is the basis, and stressed the importance of rebuilding a new social contract dictated by the various responsibilities of the state. Essentially, he summarized that this requires participatory dialogue and structural review and participatory transformations in governance in order to instate protective and preventative measures and economic plans. The speakers unanimously agreed on the need for a new educational system that enables young people of critical thinking and innovation and builds their capacities to hold governance systems accountable. They also emphasized the importance of participatory governance, stressing that it is the countries that believe in effective and inclusive participation that will succeed in their endeavors, and that political participation and economic self-reliance are central to good governance and social, economic, and political resilience.