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Non-State Welfare in the Middle East: The Impact on Social Rights (Melani Cammett)

Thursday, April 17, 2014 - 12:00pm

Silverstein Forum, Stiteler Hall First Floor (Accessibility)
All attendees are encouraged to read the full paper, available here.

Discussant: Ram Cnaan, Penn School of Social Policy and Practice

Co-sponsored by the Middle East Center at Penn

ACROSS THE MIDDLE EAST, NEW RULERS in the aftermath of colonial rule undertook statist development strategies and, in some cases, adopted redistributive rhetoric and policies. As a result, governments fueled significant advances in human development in the first decades after independence. With the onset of fiscal crises in the 1980s, many of these policies were dismantled or began to erode, while old and new non-state actors became increasingly important providers of welfare and guarantors of social protection. Professor Cammett explores what happens to the concept and substance of social rights when they are delivered and/or guaranteed by entities other than the state with examples of diverse non-state providers from the Middle East.


"Social rights, or the right to a modicum standard of living within a given social context, are often understood to include access to basic services such as health care and education. The public sector may or may not actually provide these services, but at a minimum the concept of social rights implies that states guarantee social rights by ensuring relatively equitable access for citizens, and sometimes also for non-citizen residents, within the national territory. When state capacity to provide and regulate social welfare is weak and non-state providers (NSPs) predominate, the concept and reality of social rights can be tenuous at best. . . .

The underdevelopment of formal welfare programs increases the importance of informal mechanisms for assuring social protection. A large proportion of populations in Middle Eastern countries works in the informal sector - in some cases, over 50 percent of the workforce is employed informally - and families and kinship networks are integral to welfare systems. Remittances, informal credit channels, and agricultural portfolios of crops, livestock and family farm reserves are also vital. Religious organizations and charitable contributions and, increasingly, NGOs are also important providers and financiers of social welfare in MENA countries." 

MELANI CAMMETT is an associate professor of political science specializing in the political economy of development and the Middle East. Her new book, Compassionate Communalism: Welfare and Sectarianism in Lebanon (Cornell University Press, 2014), explores the provision of social welfare by ethnic and sectarian organizations. An article based on this research won the 2011 Alexander L. George Award of the Qualitative and Mixed Methods Research Section of the American Political Science Association.  Her co-edited book, The Politics of Non-State Social Welfare in the Global South (Cornell University Press 2014), examines the political consequences of non-state welfare provision. Cammett has also published Globalization and Business Politics in North Africa: A Comparative Perspective (Cambridge University Press, 2007) and numerous articles in scholarly journals and other publications.

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