Is social protection becoming more solidaristic in the Middle East and North Africa?

Dr. Rana Jawad, University of Bath

The social and economic challenges of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region range from common problems found in other countries, such as income poverty or unemployment, to less common ones such as continuing geo-political conflict—which has fostered an image of ‘Arab exceptionalism’ or ‘Islamic exceptionalism’ in the Western media and even among some expert observers (Stetter 2012; Zubaida 2011). And of course, it has been famously argued in the first Arab Human Development Report (2009) and Makdisi (2016) that MENA stands out as a region whose relatively high levels of average wealth per capita do not match its expected levels of human development, measured in terms of gender equality, child education, social insurance coverage and economic modernisation.

The arrival of the idea of social protection (more specifically, non-contributory social protection programmes) as a form of policy intervention  in the region after the events of the 2010-2011 Arab uprisings is welcome. Through this set of development initiatives, MENA countries could undertake to improve poor people’s access to public services and to protect their most vulnerable populations against social risks.


In this sense, MENA has now joined Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa, regions which began to engage with new social assistance programmes—especially in the form of non-contributory cash transfer programmes. In the late 1990s Latin America saw the rise of child-focused conditional cash transfers in and in the 2000s sub-Saharan African countries implemented social cash transfers targeting mostly those unable to work (e.g. elderly people, disabled persons, orphans and vulnerable children).

The Latin American experience, in particular, has been heralded by some authors (such as Hanlon, et al 2010; Barrientos and Liesering 2013) as signalling the rise of a new paradigm of social policy in developing countries that is sensitive to local and political realities, representing a new form of ‘social organisation’ that can form the basis of more inclusive citizenship. This association between social protection and wider social policy formulation in developing countries is indeed new in international development but leads to bigger and more fundamental questions about governance, institutional change and what we in this article term the ‘politics of entitlement’ in developing countries: who is responsible for what/whom? what is to be redistributed in society and how? How do social factors relate to economic growth?   

In this context, this article would like to pose the question: to what extent are MENA countries witnessing a new paradigm of social policy provision, or has the political and economic order remained unchanged, making new social protection programmes nothing more than ‘old wine in new bottles’? The article is based on extensive research by the author, for both academic and policy

About the speaker

Rana Jawad is senior lecturer in social policy at the University of Bath. She is founder and convenor of the MENA social policy network  and has extensive research and consultancy experience in social policy issues of this region

Venue: 0.16-0.17

Date: 26 April 2018

Time: 12:00 - 13:00  CET