MEDirections Annual Conference
European University Institute, Florence (Italy)
In addition to the well-known security dimension, years of military strife and state collapse in the Middle East and North Africa have created new economic realities on the ground that are likely to persist in post-conflict phases. They will shape how ongoing conflicts are to end and how “normal life” might resume afterwards. The conference will explore the pathways from war economy dynamics in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and neighbouring countries and will be structured in four thematic panels.
- The dynamics of war economy, the realities they have left on the ground and the actual rules that govern economic transactions and the access to natural resources and infrastructure.
- The political economy of reconstruction and how it may create losers and winners and hence either contribute to peace building or to the creation of new grievances.
- The impact of hydrocarbon revenues in oil-rich countries like Iraq and Libya and whether they will ease reconstruction and reconciliation or conversely become an additional bone of contention between rival groups.
- The role that market-oriented and profit-driven private sector actors might play in any future reconstruction (considering also the unlikelihood of massive inter-governmental inflows).
To conclude the conference, a roundtable of a selected group of international experts from the worlds of academics, practitioners and mass media will flesh out the main points highlighted during the four panels. The objective of this debate is to encourage connections, comparisons and further perspectives.
Opening lecture: From war economy to reconstruction. How do socio-economic, political and demographic realities created by years of civil conflict shape the pathways to reconstruction?
Panel One: Pathways from war economy in the MENA
The debate on reconstruction in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has hitherto been based on the assumption that it can only follow some settlement on the ground. Either by the decisive victory of one of the parties or by successful peace arrangements, the end of violence has been seen as a primary sine-qua-non condition for an inherently post-conflict economic reconstruction. The main problem with such approach however is that none of the MENA conflicts seem to be close to either scenario. Civil conflict in is protracted and potentially recurrent. How will current war economies in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya shape the processes of reconstruction and stabilization?
Panel Two: Who gets what? Losers versus winners
The realities created on the ground by years of revolutionary strife and civil conflict will affect reconstruction and recovery efforts. On the other hand, reconstruction is a political economic process that has clear direct and indirect distributional repercussions. Communities, constituencies, regions and parties are bound to benefit (or to lose) from these processes in widely different ways. How can economic reconstruction assist in ending ongoing conflicts and contributing to stabilization, reconciliation and inclusion? What kind of policies and actions at the international, national and local levels can to make economic interests converge in the presence of strongly divergent geopolitical interests?
Panel Three: Political contexts for reconstruction
Whereas the lack of funds may prove to be a great material constraint on reconstruction and conflict ending, it is by no means the only one. The absence of a clearly defined political process on the national level can undermine reconstruction efforts even in the seeming presence of economic resources. Oil revenues that proved historically critical for the establishment of state authority in the some countries in the region, seem to have become an additional factor hindering the process in the current context. How can such spiral be broken? And is there a role to play for regional and international actors, economic as well as political, in this regard?
Panel Four: What role for the private sector in post-conflict reconstruction?
The Marshall plan was the world’s single most successful reconstruction process that happened after WWII through massive public inflows of capital from the US. For the MENA, this inter-governmental model seems however to have run out of steam in recent decades. The bet is now put on private investment and credit in the hope that it does the job either through luring in foreign investors or through financial markets extending equity or credit. Is there evidence that this has worked before? Could private investors replace international political commitment to reconstruction and re-stabilization as in cases like Angola or Sri Lanka? What is the likelihood of such model to work in the MENA?