SAT 4 - 4 - 2020
Feb 19, 2020
The Daily Star
Social justice in times of transition
The economic crisis which has been looming in the horizon for years has become inevitable. All scenarios include some kind of systemic failure for the economy while all the policy options are not free of prescriptions for managing severe economic turbulence. The question which poses itself on all scenarios and policy options is: how can we minimize the tremendous – and inevitable – social implications of the political-economic storm.
The core role of the Lebanese state, and all states in general, is to provide the means for collective and individual security and justice by organizing social, political and economic transactions in a way that ensures equality and respects human rights. Although there are clear scholarly and political disagreements around whether this is an intuitive understanding of the role of the state in normal times, there is little contestation to the idea of an effective state role during times of crisis.
The world Wednesday commemorates the “World Day of Social Justice” under the 2020 theme: “Closing the Inequalities Gap to Achieve Social Justice." According to Esra Dundar Aravacik – Public Economics and Finance – “The goal of social justice is to create equality of opportunity for every individual without eliminating the freedoms and to ensure a fair distribution of income. In particular, objective of justice is to provide services such as education, tax, social security, equal opportunities, and fair and adequate wages.” Within the emerging global complex challenges, achieving social justice requires to have social policies that are not limited to the labor sector, but holistic policies that tackle the core causes and not symptoms of the issues in the state.
The world bank recently published the report “Convergence – Five Critical Steps Toward Integrating Lagging and Leading Areas in the Middle East and North Africa” which highlighted the main challenges that hinder closing the inequality gaps in the MENA region despite all attempts and initiatives. There is a focus on cities since the region’s urban population share is among the highest in the world. Spatial dispersion in fragmented cities will be increasing future development costs and thus limiting productivity and welfare. The report presents “the five roots of spatial inequity in institutional inefficiencies across MENA – urban regulatory frictions, credentialist education systems, centralized control over local public services, barriers to the spatial mobility of goods and people, and barriers to market entry and lop-sided business environments – within cities, within countries and across national borders.”
Structural reform proposals always include a standard section around the need for the creation of safety nets for low income citizens who will be negatively affected by the procedures of the reform. Little evidence exists on the effectiveness of these safety nets especially in the presence of weak institutions and outdated governance mechanisms. Coming in the aftermath of a social unrest, reforming a collapsed economy needs to give high consideration for the risk of collapse on the social front. The last thing we need is to worsen the already fragile social system while trying to save the economic one. We need to remember that today’s solutions will create tomorrow’s problems as much as today’s problems are the results of yesterday’s solutions.
Five days ago, we commemorated the 15th year memorial of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination that left us prone to the obstruction, violation of laws and social injustice. Martyr Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was an iconic model for social justice where he created opportunities without borders between regions or social groups in the country. Educational justice was achieved through the educational scholarships, establishment of schools, development of the public schools’ system, and support of the Lebanese university. The reconstruction process and grand projects have created job opportunities and most importantly focused on urban development and built social bridges between urban and rural areas. In this critical juncture, we have realized after 15 years that martyr Rafik Hariri’s vision in confronting fragility and achieving social justice toward reaching a welfare state is currently being proposed in the reports and studies of the international institutions.
Hiba Huneini is manager of the youth and civic engagement program at the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development. Email her at
The views and opinions of authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the Arab Network for the Study of Democracy
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