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Bridging development research and development practice: LIDC hosts debate with Bloomsbury academics and UN Alliance of Civilisations fellows from the Middle East

Twelve young professionals from the Middle East and North Africa met with LIDC and Bloomsbury academics as part of the UN Alliance of Civilisations Fellowship programme for emerging leaders.

Led by LIDC Director Prof. Jeff Waage, the roundtable discussion included Dr. Matthijs van den Bos from the Department of International Politics at Birkbeck College, Dr. Bayard Roberts, lecturer in Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and Dr. Makeen F. Makeen senior lecturer in Commercial Law at SOAS.

Bloomsbury researchers gave political, public health and legal perspectives on the new development challenges after the Arab Spring, followed by a lively discussion with the audience.

The discussion started with a closer look at the changing political environments after the revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa. Countries in this region are heterogeneous societies with differing histories and ideologies which account for the recent varying outcomes.

Dr. Makeen stressed the importance of the constitution, but more specifically the constitution making process because it particularly changes the culture of a society. Three models are possible: completely breaking away from the past and creating a new legal system; making amendments to the existing constitution; or taking the South African model of a two stage process – possibly the best option as it allows the country to deal with its past.

Dr. Bayard argued that there are great potential benefits for public health after the Arab Spring. However, public health provision needs to be distributed based on need and allow for greater equality in access and capacity, including greater access by women. Communicable and non-communicable diseases, as well as higher rates of smoking and obesity, need to be addressed as the spike in rates of these coincides with the opening up to markets. Additionally, the liberalisation of healthcare and the imposition of market-led reform could have implications for access caused by the deregulation of markets. Psychological and mental health is particularly important to address due to high levels of stress from regime change and conflict in the region. However, it was also noted that mental health responses need not be entirely Western based as mental health issues, such as stress, are expressed differently in societies and provision needs to be addressed in a culturally appropriate way.

The United Nations Alliance of Civilisations (UNAOC) Fellowship Programme was created to foster dialogue and cooperation between people and societies mainly from the Arab World and from  Europe and North America. The twelve fellows from this programme came to LIDC as part of their tour  through the Middle East, North Africa, as well as multiple cities in Europe and the United States. During their visit they met with various government and international institutions to explore what is occurring in the Western world in relation to the MENA region and gain a better understanding on the culture, attitudes, and politics of these societies along with domestic and international policy challenges.