The situation in the countries of North Africa and the Middle East before the so-called Arab Spring was similar: deficient state budgets, low economic growth, weak industrialisation, high unemployment, lack of prospects for young people. As a result of these similarities, the protests originating in Tunisia have spread throughout the region and led to the overthrow of the government in many countries.
But what effect did these regime changes have on the social policies of the respective states? Roy Karadag, Kressen Thyen and Saara Inkinen, who are working together in the CRC project "Transnational Welfare - Rise, Decay and Renaissance of Social Policy in Africa", are investigating this question. In a case study they compare post-revolution, democratically ruled Tunisia with military-ruled Egypt. Has the democratisation of Tunisia led to an expansion of social policy programmes?
At the colloquium of SFB 1342, InIIS and BIGSS on June 12, Karadag presented the state of the art in research on this topic. Karadag gave an overview of the literature dealing with the interrelation between democratisation and state welfare programmes. According to this, there are three "schools of thought":
a) Most of the literature assumes a positive correlation between democratisation and the extent of state welfare programmes. The reasons are: the growing influence of large underprivileged sections of the population through democratic elections while at the same time putting pressure on elected governments to meet the demands for an expansion of social services.
b) A smaller number of authors cannot see any connection between the democratisation of a country and its social policy. Non-democratic governments are also interested in a stable society. Welfare programmes are one tool to achieve this goal.
c) A minority of authors come to the conclusion that democratisation tends even to lead to a reduction in social programmes. Examples include Latin American countries that have cut their social benefits under the influence of international organisations such as the World Bank and the World Monetary Fund.
So what is the situation in Tunisia and Egypt? So far there have been no significant differences between the social policies of the two countries, Karadag reported. Both countries initially tried to preserve their social policy institutions and programmes, but have been implementing austerity measures in cutting energy and food subsidies for a year now, even against resistance from the population.
According to Karadag, however, it is still too early for a final evaluation. Tunisia is facing a presidential election in 2019. It will soon become clear how the government and opposition politicians will act in the election campaign phase and what role social policy will play in this. However, the Egyptian military regime under President Sisi is implementing these cuts through increased repression and violence against opposition and activists.
Karadag, Thyen and Inkinen plan to present their detailed research results first at the CRC conference in October 2018 in Bremen and then publish them first as a working paper and later in a peer-reviewed journal.
Dr. Roy Karadag
CRC 1342: Global Dynamics of Social Policy, Institute for Intercultural and International Studies
Phone: +49 421 218-67468