Reversing the Vicious Circle in North Africa’s Political Economy: Confronting Rural, Urban, and Youth-Related Challenges
This report provides an analysis of the policy failures behind the process of marginalization and exclusion that was at the origin of the popular uprisings at the beginning of 2011, with a view to discussing alternative policy responses and assessing the prospects for seriously rethinking previous economic policies. These issues are investigated from the perspective of three different — but interrelated — challenges: the rural population, the urban population, and the youth.
The first chapter by Habib Ayeb revisits the evolution of agricultural policies in Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco from the 1950s to the present day, with particular attention to economic liberalization reforms. The agricultural policies pursued in the three North African countries are assessed from the angle of the progressive marginalization of the peasant class and the increasingly alarming food import dependency, whose negative effects became clear with the food supply crisis of 2008 and can be considered among the causes underlying the popular uprisings. The economic liberalization of the agricultural sectors, technical modernization, and the expansion and intensification of irrigation pursued in the three countries were to a large extent responsible for the food crisis. They served to create conditions of unequal competition for agricultural resources, leading to the increasingly visible impoverishment of the peasant class. According to the author, in order to break the mechanisms of dispossession and marginalization of millions of peasants in North African countries, and ensure solid and sustainable food security, agricultural policies must be rethought through the new concept of food sovereignty. However, as the chapter concludes, at the time of writing, nothing can lead one to think that the agricultural policies of the three countries will be fundamentally different from what they have been in the past.
In the second chapter, Gaëlle Gillot and Jean-Yves Moisseron discuss the many problems inherent in the public policies pursued in North African cities from independence until today, revealing the great contradictions, inequalities, and tensions they provoke. Today, Arab cities suffer from a profound lack of planning and resources, which can be perceived in all urban services, from transport to the distribution of energy and water, including waste management. Particular attention is given to housing policies that, especially under the pressure of economic liberalization reforms, have led to deep fragmentation and inequalities in the urban space, where poor traditional cities, shanty towns, and luxurious malls coexist side by side. As the authors highlight, while faced with a number of economic and political challenges, urban policies need to be profoundly redefined by developing new forms of participative democracy and decentralization.
The economics and politics of youth exclusion from the labor market in North African countries are discussed by Maria Cristina Paciello in the third chapter. The dramatic aggravation of the youth labor market situation over the last two decades was fundamentally a product of the policy failures associated with economic liberalization reforms and a political economy that was particularly adverse to young people. Since the popular uprisings of early 2011, transition governments in Tunisia and Egypt, like incumbent regimes in Algeria and Morocco, have made no attempt to reorient economic policies toward a development model that is more inclusive of youth. Ultimately, this reflects a continuity in the political economy of youth exclusion, albeit with important differences between North African countries. The chapter concludes by assessing the prospects for seriously rethinking previous economic policies and questioning the political-economic processes that shape youth economic exclusion by looking at the role of two actors in affecting this change: the Islamist parties, which won the most seats in the recent elections in Tunisia and Egypt, and the youth groups and activists who were the main initiators of the mass upheavals at the beginning of 2011.