Between 2008-2010, and in collaboration with ARI member the Gulf Research Centre,  ARI project’s on the role of the private sector in economic and political reform explored to what degree the private sector is capable of being a political force for change and to what degree it is dependent on the government. The project looked at the actual and potential role of the private sector in promoting economic, social, and political reform, producing ground-breaking research on a subject that is not usually approached from a political perspective. The project examined to what extent the private sector is influencing the reform process in the Arab world, looking in particular at the sector’s independence; its relationship to the ruling authority; its ability to organise and lobby; its involvement in social, educational, and political change; and its place in the public sphere and the public debate, including the media.

The project consisted of a variety of activities combining scholarly work with direct engagement of the actors themselves.  Academic papers exploring the theme from a variety of angles were published in an edited volume, Business Politics in the Middle East (Hurst publishers, 2013),  covering a number of country-level case studies and several cross-cutting, more conceptually oriented comparative chapters. In addition, two focus group meetings were held with businessmen from the chambers of commerce in Riyadh and Jeddah in order to exchange about patterns of business lobbying and the private sector’s role in policy-making in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. Finally, a two-day workshop was hosted at the 2010 Gulf Research Meeting in Cambridge within the framework of the project.

ARI culminated two years of rigorous scholarly work in the publication of two overarching policy papers, exploring to what extent the private sector is truly private in the GCC and the role of economic crisis in driving more mature interest group politics and a wider contribution of business reform processes.

Bassma Kodmani, ARI Executive Director, led this project.