International Social Security Review 71 (2), Special Issue
The introductory article of this special issue looks at the genesis, characteristics and challenges of social protection schemes in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). It argues that social protection policies in the MENA should be seen as a key ingredient of the social contract that governments offered to their citizens after independence. To compensate for the lack of political participation and accountability, free public health and education systems, generous food, energy and water subsidies, social insurance and assistance schemes and mass public‐sector employment were established. This was possible because MENA countries benefitted from substantial windfall profits (from the export of oil, gas and minerals; Suez Canal user fees), as well as from income from remittances from migrant workers and income from politically motivated aid. The decline of income from some of these sources and population growth has led MENA governments to focus more closely their social protection spending on strategically important social groups: typically, the urban upper middle class. As a result, social protection systems in MENA countries currently suffer from severe weaknesses in terms of social fairness, efficiency and sustainability. Although MENA countries still spend a very considerable share of gross domestic product on their social protection schemes, these have only very limited effects on the reduction of poverty, vulnerability and inequality – and some even exhibit perverse “bottom‐up” redistributive outcomes. The articles that comprise this special issue selectively spotlight a number of opportunities and challenges for the development of sustainable social protection in the MENA countries.