December 23, 2013
Her talk was based on the work, Melani Cammett and Ishac Diwan have done together and published already, an epilogue of the updated third edited of A Political Economy of the Middle East (Alan Richards and John Waterbury), which lays out an argument about the roots of the Arab uprisings. Their main argument is that narrowing authoritarian coalitions under the context of close relationships between business people and government officials, the rollback of state and declining welfare regimes alienated backbone of the society--formal sector workers and the middle class. Following this, the growing segments of the society perceived that inequality of opportunities was on the rise. Therefore, rather than increasing numbers of income inequality but perceptions of socioeconomic trends such as the cost of living, unemployment, widening the gap between rich and poor constitute the structural root of the mass protests in the Middle East. Polls conducted in the region; such as 2005 Poll by Zogby International and 2010 Arab Youth Poll supported the idea that political concerns were ranked lower than socioeconomic perceptions.
The “state rollback” argument constitutes an important part of her argument. In the immediate decades after the independence in the 50s, 60s, 70s, there was an enormous progress in human development records in countries of the Middle East and North Africa. Across the region, both in populist republics and conservative monarchies increase social spending, including a public provision of health services, public education. She gave an example of Egypt as a country, which put in its constitution that citizens have right to health care. Infant mortality rates also support the rise in human development indicators with a sharp decrease between 1960 and 2011. However, starting 80s, there was a decline in state’s social spending, public social programs and public social infrastructure. It felt sharply, reaching 22 percent of GDP in the early 1990s, a low figure by international standards. And it wasn’t replaced by private investments to make up the decrease. It has an impact on government employees, in where the welfare regimes are heavily structured around formal-sector workers. The cut in agricultural subsidies has a negative impact on rural poor.
Prof. Cammett also provided cross-regional comparative perspective with the help of the figures and the tables; it is the MENA (The Middle East and North Africa) region, which experienced a sharp decrease in government consumption as a percentage of GDP, compared to other regions. There is another figure on fuel subsidies, which is a politically sensitive issue and very important component of Middle East welfare regimes, just like government employment. The subsidy levels are pretty high compared to other regions based on IMF report. The subsidies are a regressive component of the welfare regime. They are designed to ease burden on households, sustain the standard of living but over time, they actually hurt government budget and erode government spending on public provisions, since less money is left for health, education, and so forth. She also showed the figures of other components of the welfare regime, such as social spending on health care. Turkey is on the list with an increased spending on healthcare. However, it is equally important to know more about the quality of services rather than only the amount of the money spent. Apart from numbers, the interviews conducted with people represent a picture that quality of public health services is decreasing as well. It is harder to quantify, indeed, Prof. Cammett’s new project focuses on the quality of primary health care in the Middle East and North Africa, beginning with a pilot study of health care services in Lebanon.
Bread, Freedom and Social Justice: A Political Economy Framework for Understanding Arab Uprising
A Talk by Prof. Melani Cammett
At the outset, she emphasized the “inequality of opportunities” argument, which makes more sense after seeing the figures and tables on decreasing or flat spending on healthcare and education services provision in those countries. Plus, the figures related to education performance also shows that inequality of opportunity actually starts to increase. Math and science scores are fairly lower than international standards. It has also an impact on finding a job as well. When you get low quality of education, you have less competitiveness in the labor market. She also confirms that if these arguments supported with public opinion data, it would increase the strength of the arguments presented here. Overall, Prof. Melani Cammett’s talk on her coauthored paper with Ishac Diwan offers a new and insightful narrative about Arab uprisings.
The presentation slides can be downloaded at this link.
 Cammett, Melani and Diwan, Ishac, “Conclusion: The Political Economy of the Arab Uprisings” (2013). In A Political Economy of the Middle East, Third ed, Westview Press.