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Political Economy, Forms of Resistance and Policy Challenges in (Post)Conflict Contexts

Session IV-20, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Friday, December 2 at 11:00 am

Panel Description
The Arab region has been devastated by numerous armed conflicts historically and in recent years. Israeli occupation has devastated the Palestinian economy for three quarters of a century. The Iraqi economy is still recovering after years of devastation wrought by sanctions and war. Not only has the Syrian economy been devastated by conflict, but neighboring Lebanon and Jordan, and to a somewhat lesser degree Turkey, have experienced considerable political and economic difficulties related to that conflict. These and other regional armed conflicts have impacted economic performance, political structures, as well as social reproduction, in a range of countries, raising questions about the degree to which existing development theories have adequately addressed the complex ways conflict, economic, social and political structures and institutions interact. The papers in this session will explore each of the above contexts and contribute not only to expanding our empirical understanding of the complex impacts of (post) conflict policies on well-being, political voice, social reproduction and economic functionality, but also expand our understanding of forms of resistance. A common focus among the four papers will be on critiquing standard development approaches, through an exploration of various political economy challenges facing the region, with an emphasis on how studying these case studies informs our understanding of both theory and viable policy options.
  • Embroidered products, particularly embroidered gowns, are a significant cultural artifact for Palestinians in historic Palestine and the diaspora. Embroidery serves as material expression of Palestinian experience, history, and identity. It serves multiple purposes: a source of economic self-sustenance, creates an invisible (ironically through vibrant and colorful materials) historical and cultural connection shared by Palestinians across the world, and enables cultural preservation and cultural continuity in the face of settler colonialism, erasure, fragmentation, and dispossession. This paper builds on the established literature on the political economy of Palestine (Tartir, Dana, and Seidel 2021, Turner and Shweiki 2015) and explores the ways in which Palestinian women use embroidery to support their families while living under the political violence produced by Israeli settler colonialism and occupation that on the one hand, restricts their freedom of movement and access to employment, and on the other hand, prevents them from having a stable sovereignty that can produce laws and regulations to protect its citizens. Through interviews and participant observation, I have discovered that these women are embroidering the very cultural materials that hold up a nation and a fragmented people. The women who embroider the pieces that carry Palestine all over the world work at home and silently, but their work is the backbone of Palestinian culture and heritage. This reinscribes the traditional role of women as the preservers of culture, but paradoxically it is also an act of resistance since it ensures the cultural continuity of Palestinians. However, they experience a certain level of precarity because they not only experience Israeli political violence, but they also operate in an unregulated and saturated market with no protections, often receiving low payment for the painstaking work they do. Development agencies, particularly Palestinian charity organizations, have dedicated embroidery units and sell products to raise funding for their activities, but women say they do not pay enough given the amount of work it takes to produce a product. For example, an embroidered gown, or thob, can take two to four months to finish. However, embroiderers are between a hard place and rock because it is more difficult to work on one’s own and working for an organization provides more of a guarantee of steady income (low as it may be).
  • In this paper, we contest the applicability of recent conceptualizations of economic development. Specifically, we examine Iraq’s post 2003 economic and political transition in light of Acemoglu and Robinson’s formulation of the relationship between inclusive (or extractive) political and economic institutions, with the former affecting the latter. Inclusive economic institutions offer broad-based economic incentives and opportunities, while extractive economic institutions present opportunities to a narrow segment of the population only. Using a variety of metrics (including World Bank governance surveys) we show that politically more inclusive institutions have not resulted in more economic inclusion--contrary to what Acemoglu and Robinson would predict. This is a major shortcoming of their approach, which is now regularly applied to developing countries, including in MENA. In contrast, we argue that more political inclusion has worked indirectly to reduce state capacity, hindering economic inclusion rather than promoting development.
  • Youth unemployment in the Middle East and North Africa is among the highest in the world. Young people are particularly plagued with long stints of unemployment, especially as they attempt to make the transition from schooling to employment. After the 2011 uprisings, these transitions became even more strained in a number of countries that suffered from the political and economic consequences of conflict in the region. Lebanon and Jordan are now home to over one and a half million refugees from the Syrian war. Given the relatively small sizes of the native population of Lebanon and Jordan, this influx of refugees has had major impacts on the local economies, politics, and societies. This paper uses the ILO’s School to Work Transition Survey from Lebanon and Jordan in 2015 and the Jordan Labor Market Panel Survey of 2016 to examine the impact of the refugee influx on the young people in these two countries. Specifically, this paper examines the impact that living near high concentrations of refugees has on the young people’s ability to find work after finishing schooling. Additionally, this paper examines the attitudes of young people towards immigrants and refugees using the 6th and 7th rounds of the World Values Survey to see how the attitudes of young people in Lebanon and Jordan differ from those of countries less impacted by the Syrian Civil War, including Egypt and Tunisia. This paper finds that while there has been little economic impact on the lives of young people, the political attitudes towards immigrants and refugees have become more negative since the refugee crisis began, especially compared to other MENA countries. This implies that while the economic consequences of the refugee crisis may be minimal, there are still potential political impacts due to the impact of refugee resettlement on political beliefs.
  • Analyzing refugees provides an opportunity to problematize standard macroeconomic approaches to economic well-being because refugee communities have no legitimate place within nationalist, neoliberal capitalist structures. Furthermore, once the issue of gender is added to the mix, the problematic and intersectional constraints created by patriarchal, nationalist, and neoliberal institutions are brought into sharp focus, revealing the way each plays a role in contributing to economic vulnerability. In this paper we first develop a theoretical framework for examining how refugee crises can be used to illustrate the limits of neoliberal, patriarchal and nationalist approaches to economic vulnerability. Subsequently, drawing on interviews with NGO and UN employees in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey we explore how as the Syrian response illustrates the problematic ways that nationalism, neoliberalism and patriarchy intersect to shape patterns of economic vulnerability and how solutions proposed both reinforce and are in tension with these three isms. The paper ends with a discussion of the importance of rethinking macroeconomic policy frames, not only to better address the economic vulnerability of refugees but also more generally, with a focus on how studying refugees can inform other vulnerability contexts as well.