Programs in the Middle East & North Africa

For most of the Middle East and North Africa region, the initial hope and optimism of the Arab Spring transitions has faded, with the notable exception of Tunisia, as the countries with the most promising transitions stalled or reversed course in their attempts to form democratic societies.

CIPE is committed to continuing to support its democratic partners in the region to help them weather this period of chaos and instability and play a leading role in building democratic institutions, now and in the future. CIPE supports reform-oriented private sector actors to influence the trajectory of transitions in their respective countries. CIPE strengthens the capacity of business associations and chambers to serve as the voice of the private sector in policymaking. CIPE helps improve governance by fostering transparency and accountability in the public and private sectors, and works with local partners to increase support for, and understanding of, the freedoms, rights, and responsibilities essential to market-oriented democracies.

Tunisia: Establishing Democratic and Free Market Institutions

As the only Arab Spring country to make a transition to democracy, the success of Tunisia’s democratic experiment is vital to the future of democracy in the Arab world. Democracy will only survive if it is seen to deliver for average citizens. To date, politics and security have dominated public debate at the expense of dialogue on economic reform. As a result, CIPE has focused on strengthening the voices of Tunisia’s private sector to participate in policymaking processes and elevate the urgency of economic reform issues in public debate.

CIPE is working with longtime partner the Arab Institute of Business Leaders (IACE) to develop and implement an advocacy program to represent its members’ interests and push for reform. IACE has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Office of the Prime Minister to lead a private sector coalition in dialogue with the government on economic reform priorities. In addition to IACE, the coalition will include the Tunisian Union for Agriculture and Fishing (UTAP) and the Tunisian Union for Industry, Commerce, and Handicrafts (UTICA), Tunisia’s most prominent employers’ union. CIPE will help IACE lead the coalition, beginning with issue-identification and consensus-building through CIPE’s proven National Business Agenda process, and will support the NBA process by engaging additional private sector voices to contribute at the grassroots level.

CIPE is also working to support the proliferation of private sector voices at the local level. With CIPE support, the Union of Small- and Medium-Sized Industries (UPMI) in the Sfax region is building its internal capacity as it explores the issue of poor education and lack of market skills among youth. IACE also received a CIPE grant to collect and disseminate best practices in municipal governance from across Tunisia.

Syria: Private Sector Participation to Mitigate the Effects of Conflict

After years of conflict in Syria, Syrian citizens find themselves caught between the brutal autocratic regime of Bashar al Assad and the onslaught of violent extremists. Millions have been displaced by armed conflict, and Syria’s economic and social fabric is in tatters.

Since the country’s initial pro-democracy uprising in 2011, CIPE has worked with a group of Syrian businesspeople committed to a united, prosperous, democratic Syria. With CIPE’s help, the group formed the Syrian Economic Forum (SEF), an independent think tank that serves as a meeting point and voice of the pro-democracy Syrian business community. With an office in neighboring Turkey, and businesspeople on the board of directors, SEF has become a vehicle for Syria’s democracy-oriented private sector to effect positive change for their country. SEF also serves as a point of contact for outside engagement. SEF’s office in Turkey hosts a steady stream of visitors from the Syrian opposition government and the international community seeking to meet with SEF, its members, and stakeholders. Without SEF, this kind of engagement would not be possible.

While there is no end to war in sight, pro-democracy Syrians refuse to give up on their country. Civil society organizations like the Syrian Economic Forum offer a vehicle for hope and action to build a brighter future for the embattled Syrian people

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