Social policy has a distinctive capacity to offer a new and insightful narrative about the political dynamics of the region of the Middle East. Indeed, a social policy perspective can highlight the existence of social welfare action, broadly defined, in the public sphere which is bringing about positive change in Middle Eastern societies and yet has so far remained under-represented in the mainstream social policy and development studies literatures. While there is common rhetorical consensus both in academia and policy circles that the main goal of social policy is general social welfare, the history of social policy shows that this field of action is much more concerned with how social welfare is defined, achieved, and measured. We argue that political cleavages underpin the trajectory of welfare state development and it is these debates which we hope to highlight in this chapter on social policy in the Middle East. Indeed, aspects of these debates already resonate in the recent Arab uprisings. The ‘Arab Spring’, that has swept through the region starting late 2010, and the 2011 Israeli tent protests, have refocused attention not only on the need for political reform and civil rights in many countries in this region, but also on the underlying social causes that gave momentum to these upheavals and to the policies required to deal with them. Clearly, the spiraling cost of living, unemployment and the unequal distribution of wealth in these nations along with widespread poverty have all played a major role in creating the conditions for public unrest and demands for system change in Middle Eastern nations. From a social policy perspective, the immediate question is whether the political mobilization that emerged in the region in the second decade of the new millennium may eventually lead to new forms of more adequate welfare provision as can be found in Western countries or if it will lead to another distinctive Middle Eastern form of this. More concerned academic attention on social policy in the Middle East may help push social policy concerns more centre stage and promote a better understanding of them. Thus, a critical overview of this region and its diverse national social policy settings will be the subject of this chapter. For clarification, the Middle East includes countries in a geographic region which, according to Henry and Springborg (2001) extend ‘from Morocco to Turkey along the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean and as far east as Iran and south to Sudan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen’. The region has a population of half a billion, which is Muslim in the majority, but as the seat of the world’s three largest monotheistic religions, it is also home to long-standing Christian and Jewish populations.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Social Sciences(all)