Regional Economic Freedom Conferences
Fourth Economic Freedom of the Arab World Conference, Marrakech, November 13 to 15, 2009
The relationship between economic freedom and social justice was the theme of this year's Economic Freedom of the Arab World Conference held in Marrakech on November 13 to 15, 2009. As in earlier years, this event was co-organized by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Liberty's Cairo Office, the Fraser Institute of Canada and the International Research Foundation of Oman. Le Centre des Jeunes Dirigeants d'Entreprise joined as local partners.
The findings of the 2009 Report on Economic Freedom of the Arab World were the point of reference in most presentations (.ppt) and discussions at this conference. The Report published annually by the Fraser Institute in cooperation with the IRF and FNF was launched in both English and Arabic at the beginning of the two-day conference. The data, once more, substantiates the core liberal message that there exists a correlation between the degree of economic freedom of a country and the level of economic development. The report is prepared by Salem Al Ismaily, IRF, and Amela Karabegović and Fred McMahon, Fraser Institute.
Bahrain first, Egypt tenth
For the first time, enough data was available to include Bahrain in the rankings, which had the best overall score in the 2009 report followed by Kuwait, Lebanon and Oman. Jordan ranks 5th, Egypt 10th and Morocco 11th. According to the data, Algeria, Syria, Mauritania and Tunisia have the weakest levels of economic freedom in the Arab world.
Minister of State Mohammed Ouzzine addressed the opening reception on November 13 sponsored by FNF. Minister Ouzzine discussed how economic freedom builds prosperity and promotes peace. He noted that economically free nations see each other as trading partners, not combatants.
Addressing the conference the next day, Morocco's Minister of Employment Jamal Aghmani gave an overview of his government's reform initiatives that took up speed in the last decade. Although the minister was upbeat he conceded that much could still be done to improve the climate for private investment. As in other Arab nations, unemployment is a major challenge in Morocco. According to World Bank estimates, 40 Million jobs need to be created in the Arab world to find employment for the expanding population. "The greatest single social program in the world is the creation of jobs", said Fred McMahon, Director of Globalization Studies at the Fraser Institute. Dr. Detmar Doering, head of the Liberal Institute of FNF, argued that the best way to promote social justice is to increase economic freedom as empirical data proved that personal income levels and life expectancy increase - and the danger of hunger decreases - if the level of economic freedom goes up in a society.
Speakers from various Arab countries pointed out that frequently economic liberalization in this part of the world is flawed as it does not come hand in hand with political reforms and the rule of law: They bemoaned widespread cronyism and a lack of transparency which limit equal opportunities and, also, damage the reputation of economic liberalization in the eyes of many people. "Political and economic liberalization must be two sides of one coin, if societies wish to achieve social progress", said FNF's Regional Director, Dr. Ronald Meinardus.
The next annual conference on Economic Freedom of the Arab World should be held in Alexandria, the participants suggested in Marrakech. They also proposed that they would then discuss the topic, "Economic reforms in the Arab world: Reality or Myth?".
Policy audit of Egypt, October 12, 2009
On November 12, 2009, the Fraser Institute in cooperation with the Information and Decision Support Center (IDSC) of the Egyptian and the Atlas Global Initiative for Free Trade, Peace and Prosperity held an economic freedom audit in Cairo to design strategies to increase the economic freedom of Egyptians.
For the audit, the IDSC, which bills itself the "Egyptian Cabinet's think tank" and is one of the most influential and powerful groups in Egypt at the forefront of researching and making public policy, published a booklet on economic freedom in Egypt, titled, "Economic Freedom in Egypt: Present and Future".
Well over a hundred top decision makers and leaders attended the full day seminar on Egypt's economic freedom, held in the ballroom of the Marriott Omar Khayyam Hotel in Cairo.
The opening session was addressed by IDSC Chairman, Maguey Osman, Ambassador Hussein Elkamel, IDSC International Cooperation Senior Advisor, and the Fraser Institute's Fred McMahon, who discussed the benefits of economic freedom and the audit process. (Instantaneous translation to Arabic was provided.)
As Nobel Laureate Douglass North has noted, the Fraser economic freedom index is the "best available" description of "efficient markets". As such, it is not merely a description of the economy, but can also be a prescription for reform. The 42 variables in the index provide a comprehensive picture of economic policy and can pinpoint where improvements are needed and even what those improvements should be.
After the opening addresses in Cairo, the meeting broke into five working groups, one for each area of economic freedom: Size of Government, Rule of Law, Free Trade, Sound Money, and the Regulation of Credit, Labour, and Business. The booklet was used as a source to show Egypt's score for each of the 42 variables, the average world and Arab score (to provide context for Egypt's score) and the scores for world top 10 to provide models for world-class performance. Each group's task was to find ways to increase economic freedom in their area.
The working groups then reported back late in the afternoon to the full seminar with their recommendations. Noul El Harmouzi (Atlas) - who deserves much of the credit for making the Egyptian audit happen - has now received the written (Arabic) version of these recommendations plus the full transcripts of the discussions in each group. He is preparing Arabic and English reports, which he and McMahon will then work to refine and present to the IDSC.
One of the marvelous things about the audit process, which has been also held in Jordan and Oman, was its broadness. In these audits, international and domestic speakers are able to present economically liberal views to people who are unfamiliar with or even hostile to economic liberalism, and explain the ideas and the benefits they bring.
Those hostile to economic liberalism will not change their minds immediately but liberal ideas will no longer seem strange and destructive, and they will understand, on a more personal level, that the people promoting these ideas, including their Egyptian colleagues, also care for the well-being of average Egyptians. This type of work also provides reinforcement for Egyptians who already understand the benefits of economic liberalism.
This was the first time some of the people in the seminar had been exposed to an articulate explanation of markets. Because these are influential people, this is wholesaling the ideas.
The process also benefited from extensive media coverage in Egypt, retailing the ideas. McMahon, for example, was interviewed for television news in English and Arabic, with the help of a translator supplied by the IDSC. Reports on the audit appeared in at least 10 newspapers and most electronic news casts.
The Fraser Institute has received a letter from Dr. Osman urging further cooperative work with the Fraser Institute. We anticipate follow up work in Egypt and have been asked by organizations in several other Arab nations to undertake similar projects.
Policy audit of Jordan, August 27, 2008
On August 27, the Young Entrepreneurs Association (YEA) of Jordan and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation (office), in association with the Fraser Institute, held a policy audit of to determine how Economic Freedom can be increased in Jordan. It attracted top political, governmental, business, academic, and media leaders. The conference booklet, Jordan Audit Conference 2008: Increasing Economic Freedom in Jordan , published by the YEA, provides details.
Second Economic Freedom of the Arab World Conference, Amman, Jordan, November 22 to 23, 2007
Under the Royal Patronage of His Royal Highness King Abdullah II, policy makers, government officials, and business representatives from across the Middle East and around the world gathered at the Mövenpick Hotel on the Dead Sea, in Jordan in November 2007 to discuss how economic freedom can improve the lives of people living throughout the Arab world.
The two day conference was co-hosted by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation office in Jordan, the Young Entrepreneurs Association of Jordan, the International Research Foundation of Oman (IRF), and The Fraser Institute of Canada.
Her Excellency Suhair Al-Ali, Minister of Planning for the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, delivered the keynote address, in which she discussed the necessity for and challenges of reforms in Jordan.
His Excellency Salem Khazaaleh, Minister of Industry & Trade for Jordan attended the conference as the King's representative.
Presentations on economic freedom and its benefits, entrepreneurship, globalization and income inequality, business regulation, and reforms in Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt followed. The conference concluded with a thought provoking session on security versus liberty. The US Patriot Act, emergency laws in the Middle East and Asia, and terrorism acts in the EU are all based on the assumption that liberty and security are mutually exclusive. That is, the assumption is that we have to give up liberty to gain security. The session focused on a few examples of security laws in the Arab world and how to model and empirically test this hypothesis.
The highlight of the conference was the gala dinner and awards ceremony. On November 22nd at the Mövenpick Hotel on the Dead Sea, Arab countries that have made the most progress in providing their citizens with economic freedom were honoured during an awards ceremony hosted by the International Research Foundation (IRF) from Oman in association with The Fraser Institute. The Economic Freedom of the Arab World awards were based on the Economic Freedom of the Arab World report which measures economic freedom in the Arab nations.
The awards ceremony celebrated the achievements of those Arab nations that have persisted in their efforts to implement reforms and increase the level of economic freedom in their nations. The ceremony was also a reminder to those nations not performing well in economic freedom that improvements are possible and that they can learn from the experience of their neighbours.
The top performers in each of the five sub-categories of economic freedom were:
Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates received recognition for the "Top Achievement in Economic Freedom" for their accomplishments in the overall level of economic freedom.
Today more than ever, the world, including the Arab nations, needs policies that lead to economic prosperity and job creation. The first step toward improvement is an objective measurement of those policies that create wealth. The Economic Freedom of the Arab World does exactly that. Furthermore, the index allows countries to see how their policies differ from those of more prosperous countries, so countries can see for themselves why they rank where they do, and how their ranking can be improved.
It is our hope that nations in the region will use the report as a roadmap for further reforms. Those reforms could not only increase economic freedom in the nations in which they are implemented, but could also create the jobs and prosperity necessary to improve the lives of citizens.
Inaugural Economic Freedom of the Arab World Conference
Conference participants listen to one of the opening presentations.
Panel on Access to Credit and Enterprise Financing Facilities takes questions from the conference participants. From left to right: Ms. Dolly Hatem (Head of Small Business Loans & Kafalat Units at Byblos Bank Sal, Lebanon), Dr. Khater Abi Habib (Chairman Kafalat Corporation, Lebanon), Mr. Nassib Ghobril (Head of Research, Byblos Bank Group, Lebanon), and Dr. Wissam Fahed (Ministry of Finance, Lebanon).
Dr. Michael Walker, President, Fraser Institute Foundation and Senior Fellow at The Fraser Institute, Canada, presents an Omani representative with an Economic Freedom Award.
Representatives from Lebanon, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait, whose governments received awards in different economic freedom categories, gather for a group photo at the Economic Freedom of the Arab World Award ceremony.
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