Statement of Interdisciplinary Research Interest: The Relationship between Community Economic Development and Democracy in Egypt

28 07 2009

The Relationship between Community Economic Development and Democracy in Egypt

Statement of Interdisciplinary Research Interest

  Dalhousie University

  by Rany Ibrahim, MBA-CED

Nova Scotia,  Canada

(902) 292-0451

            “Wind of Change” in the Middle East has been one of the international media headlines following particular developments in Lebanon and Egypt that triggered calls for democracy in that region. Being from the Middle East, I would argue that Middle Eastern societies have been seeking that change for long time and have a desire for democracy and prosperity. Many political analysts agree that the root economic and social problems of this region that reflect limited access to freedoms are manifested in the war in Iraq, the Lebanese/Syrian conflict, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, the Saudi Arabian security problems, Iranian nuclear problems and the growing numbers and occurrences of street demonstrations in Egypt. The proposed research examines the relationship between community economic development and democracy in Egypt. It is so difficult to separate elements of change (history, politics, and economics) from each other, especially in a complex region such as the Middle East. The research investigates reform in Egypt from the historical, political, and economic points of view. It explores three major areas: social capital and social development, democratization and political reform, and economic development growth. The research will seek an answer to the following questions: Do we need democracy to achieve economic development? Or conversely, do we need economic development to achieve democracy? Can community economic development be considered the link between human development and economic development?

Community economic development is a Western idea that started through informal kitchen meetings among community members. Through church and kitchen meetings, people began thinking about and discussing their community problems, trying to come up with answers and solutions. These meetings and the results of community involvement show how the average citizen can be involved in processes that initiate change in their own communities.  Slogans like ‘Billion Hour Buzz’ or ‘Civic Muscle’ emerge to emphasize the civic communities’ hidden powers that can always create change. While community economic development has Western roots with theories born in Europe and North America, it has practices closer to Middle Eastern culture, making it an ideal model to transfer, adopt and change to suit the region. Middle Eastern countries such as Egypt shifted into different economic and political practices during the last century. I believe Egypt is ready to adopt such a theory towards its development. Local communities have a big role and responsibility in demonstrating their needs and showing their willpower and determination to make the necessary change. If they are not willing to help themselves, no one can help them. Most political analysts advise that to be able to last, the movement for change has to come from the people themselves. Western pressure can spark change, but it will not be able to get lasting results without committed people. Western reform theories can help by creating particular political and economic conditions, but only people’s movements can create change. My hypothesis is that economic and social development is required for political development, and community economic development is an advisable way to achieve it. In that sense, we can identify democracy as an aspect of the social development of human rights, which is part of human development. Community economic development rises as a link between human development and economic development.

As a vision of social change, the philosophy of community economic development works to promote community participation from the grassroots. This raises certain questions: How can the local community use economic development as a transaction medium for democracy? How can the community use democracy to promote economic development? How can communities take control of the local economy to develop a link between human development and political development? Is it better to cross-link groups through economic development or bridge groups by democracy? Can economic development liberate people and establish democratic values? How can democratic societies facilitate the possibilities of economic growth? It is crucial to answer such interdisciplinary questions in a complex region such as the Middle East that is full of several religious and ethnic groups. The research will require an examination of a cross-section from three disciplines: history, politics, and economics. Therefore my research will be interdisciplinary.

The Middle East saw the dawn of many civilizations, was the birth place to three main religions, the location of many wars, and now is the oil hub and world’s leading energy producer. In such a complex region that always has been the focus of the world’s attention, development has been a major issue of concern. Egypt stands out as an example of the dynamics of a potential democracy in the Middle East. Egypt is an Arab country situated in the Middle East, where Islam is the dominant religion and culture. Egypt is one of the larger countries in the Middle East with its population of over eighty million. As a third world developing country, Egypt suffers from many economic and political problems that reflect its high poverty and rate of corruption. However, Egypt has a great influence in the Middle East’s strategic balance because of its location and active involvement in the region’s affairs. Presently, there is a rising movement towards democracy coupled with the hope that it will strengthen an economic renewal in the area.

Methodological tools available for the research are a mixture of qualitative and quantitative methods. I will use the macro approach, and analysis of the most effective historical, political, and economic elements for community economic development in Egypt as a case study of a country situated in the Middle East to answer the thesis question.

Qualitative Methods: Theoretical. Assess critically other pieces of research carried out in this tradition, surveys, analysis of interviews, questionnaires, focus groups, and historical sources, visual, spatial and material and philosophic investigations.

Quantitative Methods: Forecasting statistical and financial methods, econometric modeling, exploratory data analysis, and descriptive statistics. The first year of study will focus on a review of relevant literature, developing a theoretical framework, and gathering data. Then second year will focus on data gathering, surveys and focus group analyses, and the last year on analyses and final thesis writing.

            (I) History: Historical investigation to significant events and activities that lead to the present day is necessary to help explain the mechanisms of democracy and its functionality in Egypt. Since the end of the era of monarchy sixty years ago, generations have been born and have lived under martial law in a controlled, suppressive authoritarian environment in the new republic, where suppression of the security and police of the political opposition and violations of human rights were a common practice.  The current generations of Egyptians have lived all their lives under such regimes, they have never experienced democracy. Do we need to teach them what democracy is first or do we assume that it is a value we are born with that we call freedom. What if they had the opportunity and these were a backlash on us with different outcomes for our expectations? Do we really want democracy for Egypt? And if so, what kind of democracy do we want?  Robert Kaplan’s argument in his article “Was Democracy Just a Moment?” states that Hitler and other dictators came to power through democracy. This fear that fundamentalists or radical groups such as “Muslim Brotherhood” or “Islamic Jihad,” could reach power by democratic processes leads these countries towards disasters and terrorism. This idea in Egypt is a major concern, not only to the ten million Coptic minorities in Egypt, but also to the liberal Muslims as well. The United States and Europe always supported the regime in Egypt regardless of its non-democratic practices, because they preferred stability in Egypt which is the most effective ally in the Middle East (Kaplan, 1997). The latest movement and pressure from the US on Egypt raises the question of what are the risks that the US government may encounter if it loses its allies through the very democratic process that it desires to promote.  The same risks are also seen in the US political and military active involvement in changing Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan. Democracy can not solve any problem without its twin mechanisms: history and economy.

James Scott’s study “Infrapolitics of Subordinate Groups,” about power relations in poor and non-democratic communities shows us that there is a gap in democracy and economy within those social systems. He makes a comparison between what he calls the ‘hidden transcript,’ “through which the subordinate groups express a critique of the powerful, with the public transcript of the powerful, the dominate forces in society” (Scott, 1990). The hidden transcript is comprised of people who feel ignored and would fight against projects or businesses if they were not involved in them.  He gives examples of how people can fight back at the non-democratic regimes by poaching, foot-dragging, pilfering, dissimilation, and flight. Most government systems and regulations in Egypt create a pessimistic environment which crushes people’s ability to practice the full meaning of citizenship, as well as their personal ambitions to innovate. In such a system, a few gifted people become rebels fighting the system that limited their freedoms and abilities to regulate and reform.

Democracy promotes participation in economic activities among various classes and religions through the participation of the public stockholders in the decision making process. The vision of democracy responds to the social needs of the community, stimulated by economic activities; democracy works as a way to avoid cultural differences between class and religion. A vision of a truly democratic society must subsume the interests of a coalition of social forces (Green, 1985). Community-based initiatives would be a main approach to achieve this vision. Religion in Egypt plays a significant role in the fragmentation of Muslims, Christians, Jews, Baha’is, and other groups. It has considerable influence on civic and social participation within Egypt’s communities. Benjamin Barber states in his book Jihad vs. McWorld that the real power players are not nations, but tribes based on ethnicity, religion, or family (Barber, 1995).

(II) Politics: By understanding the regional backgrounds and historical evidence, we are able to see the required mechanism to make democracy work in Egypt. Changes in regions such as the Middle East have their unique ways to emerge and rise, and community economic development could be one significant way to make changes from the inside out. The local cultures and history in such region make it more difficult to impose change from outside. History of fear of Western invasion and doubt in Western interests within the local communities discourage movements from making change towards democracy. With high illiteracy rates and almost half the population living under poverty line, we have to identify what the local perception of democracy and economic development in Egypt is in terms of its benefits to the common citizen. We must also identify the ethics and shapes of democracy, whether direct democracy, delegated democracy or controlled democracy. Measuring indicators of democracy such as free and fair elections, free expression, free press, civil rights, and human rights are crucial to identify these shapes.  

The gap between rich and poor in the region is increasing and needs fundamental structural change. By identifying the distinction between political authority and religious or cultural dominance, we clarify the relation between political, religious authorities, and economic development. A study by Benjamin Reilly and Robert Phillpot shows that power sometimes focuses on short-term wealth distribution rather than long-term wealth creation (Reilly and Phillpot, 2002). They raise key questions of how in fragmented societies the ‘intra-group’ (a segmented group that is seeking power) capital becomes the pressure towards developing group cohesion and becomes a key element in achieving political power. Egypt needs to cement the stabilization of its policies to promote growth. Egypt needs political and economic reform to address the fundamental weaknesses that tend to overcome its economic development struggle.  Regarding the sequencing, while some reforms are at the core of Human Development (such as political reform) and should be undertaken simultaneously with the stabilization of economic policies, governance needs to be identified in practices that direct economic activities, and need to be involved in state strategy making and methods of change. The purpose of the state should not be to regulate the economy but rather to enable it to regulate itself and become accountable to the people for it affects. The structure in community business is a basic element of building social foundation for community economic development. Civic networks are forms of community structures that are created by the involvement and participation of people within communities (Bruyn & Meehan, 1987).

(III) Economics: Politics and economics have always worked hand in hand over time and have greatly affected one another. The economy usually reflects the political stability of a given country, and counts as a sign of social prosperity. We have to analyze poverty and economic effects using measures of development such as GI, Wellbeing, Welfare, Human Development, Gender Empowerment, and GDP. We must identify the types of economies in Egypt such as knowledge-based economy, capital economy, etc. and identify the types of markets, economic associations and practices that direct economic activities and its involvement in the State strategy-making and methods of change. Working with the assumption that the market needs freedom to function efficiently, societies need freedom to be able to create, innovate and develop (Sen, 1983). Amartya Sen’s theory of social choice and welfare economy links social choice of the society as an element that can bridge the gap between economic activities and the welfare economy. An important segment of community-based projects is participation in the social economy. The theories of community economic development integrate with the theories of social economy in developing community business. Developing community business processes engages structure and governance within the society. We have to address the challenges that face the administrative process in order to be able to develop realistic and successful strategies. These strategies should address economic co-operation in community economic development instead of economic competition in business.

The idea of governance through democracy is attached to strong communities. The outcome of a civil society is an economy that interacts with community and democracy.  A study by T. Williamson, D. Imbrosicio and G. Alperovitz entitled,   Making A Place for Community, argued that the stability of democracy cannot be understood without understanding the economics of the community under the conditions of a global market society. They clarify the effects of the political economy and the local democracy on the global market society. Their argument is that in a global economy, the pressure on the community comes from the top-down, while in democracy it comes from the bottom-up. T. Williamson, D. Imbrosicio and G. Alperovitz concluded that the foundation of democracy depends not only on local social capital but also on local economic capital, which engages the civil society at all levels (Williamson, 2002). This leads us to the debate on economic freedom and social freedom as the foundations of structure and governance. Amin, A. Cameron and R. Hudson, in The Alternative of a Social Economy, question whether or not social economy is just an alternative for capitalism.  The concept of social economy was a way to change the ordinary economy in order to achieve social goals and democratization. Amin, A. Cameron and R. Hudson state that it is a way to affect the democratic process of rights and obligations, which is what we call citizenship (Alcock et al., 1989).

The research will integrate the proposed disciplines by accessing a knowledge-base from History, Politics and Economics. I have a passion for this research, being a native of Egypt, and growing up in a controlled political environment, seeing many significant changes extend beyond boarders to the wider Middle East. I received my education and held jobs in both the Middle East and North America and had the opportunity to travel and learn about several social and economic trends from the unique prospective of someone with a diverse background. Having a strong business, social science, and community development background makes me an ideal candidate to carry out such interdisciplinary research in both English and Arabic.  The proposed researcher and supportive advisory team include:

  • Researcher: Rany Ibrahim 

A former graduate international student from Egypt graduated with Maters of Business Administration in Community Economic Development from Cape Breton University. My research focus is on the relationship between Community Economic Development and Democracy in the Middle East. I am an average “A” student, and my GPA during my studies was 4.0. I received several High Academic Performance, Professional, and Community awards. I had the opportunity to travel around the world to many countries in the Middle East, Europe and North America. I believe my professional experience in international business development, community economic development, project management, and international relations have prepared me well for this research.  I have developed knowledge and experience in public and private sectors, as well as relationship development, experience in developing community based projects, and policy development through my community involvement as a former Board Member with Cape Breton County Economic Development Authority (CBCEDA), and as a former Director of International Relations with Junior Chamber International (JCI), Cape Breton Chapter. Most recently I received “Champion of Development Award” from CBCEDA, and “HYPE Award” (Horning Young Professionals and Entrepreneurs) from JCI on October and November 2007.

In addition to my academic and community work background, my previous professional experience includes the role of Management Consultant with Nova Scotia Business Inc. delivered “Doing business in the UAE” information session, and helped with Middle East trade mission work with Nova Scotia companies in cooperation with the Nova Scotia Department of Environment and Labour and EduNova. Also, I provided business translation from English to Arabic to the Nova Scotia Office of Economic Development. Furthermore, I worked as a Development Officer and as Account Executive for the Provincial BR+E program (Business Retention and Expansion) with Hants Regional Development Authority, and as a Business Services and Regional Sales Manager for Advanced Glazings Ltd. responsible for international business development, market research, and viability studies in the Middle East & North African markets. Through these experiences, I believe I have demonstrated excellent analytical and research abilities, outstanding verbal and written communication skills, and the ability to work both independently and with a team. I have demonstrated advanced computer skills including several financial analytical systems. 

  • Research Supervisor: Dr. Amal Ghazal, History Department 

Dr. Ghazal has research interests focused on the Modern Middle East, North Africa, Islam in sub-Saharan Africa, Intellectual and Political History, Political Islam, Salafism, Arab Nationalism, Arabic Press, Intellectual Networks, and Slavery.

  • Committee member: Dr. David Black, Political Science Department

Dr. Black’s research interests focusing on Canada and Sub-Saharan Africa, with emphases on human security, development assistance, multilateral diplomacy, and extractive industry investment. He has also written on human rights in Canadian and South African foreign policies, on the role of post-apartheid South Africa in Africa, and on Sport and World Politics.

  • Committee member: Dr. Ann Griffiths, Political Science Department

Dr. Griffiths’s is research and teaching interests include peacebuilding, democratization, peace and conflict studies, human rights and federalism. 

  • Committee member: Professor Ian McAllister, Economics Department

Professor McAllister’s research interests focusing on Disaster relief, development and modern peacebuilding. Includes themes of sustaining relief with development (especially drawing on International Red Cross and strategic NGO and UN agency experiences); projects and programmes that have played critical ‘broker’ roles re. transition from disasters to recovery (as well as in preventing/mitigating disasters); ethical, economic, political and social dimensions of the transition phases. Professor McAllister is currently supervising a grad student who has been working in Cairo with the Aga Khan Foundation on their micro credit programme.


Recently the international press and media around the world covering changes in Egypt and the Middle East used headlines like “The Arabian Spring” or “Wind of Change in The Middle East.” They raised many questions such as: What are the elements? Is it a really a movement that will last? What are the reasons for the movement? Is it because of Western pressure? Is it because of regional changes? How can we make it continue? The primary research outcome will be a greater understanding of the methods of change in Egypt, promoting community economic development to work as a link between economic development and democratic reform. The research also will work as a base for further investigation into methods of local and regional development, integrating historical, political, and economic elements.



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5 responses

30 07 2009
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