A Guide to Universal Social Protection in the Arab Region: Challenges and Opportunities

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Executive Summary

This book aims to examine the potential for expanding social protection to include the most vulnerable and marginalized groups across four Arab countries of study: Jordan, Tunisia, Lebanon, and Egypt. The book operates on the premise that social protection is an inherent human right that should be accessible to all individuals throughout their lives. The objective of social protection is therefore to shift away from the narrow view of relief provision and toward a human rights-based approach that understands social protection as a tool for empowering individuals and promoting equity.

The book centers around three core themes: universal coverage, public protection against risks, and the adequacy of the benefits provided. It further delves into three subsystems of social protection: non-contributory social protection, contributory social protection, and active and passive labor market programs. Specifically, the book examines four distinct social groups: children, older persons,1Meaning persons over the age of 60 or 65 depending on the country’s context. informal workers, and young individuals not in education, employment, or training (NEETs). These groups were selected based on rigorous scientific criteria and quantitative indicators.

The book is divided into four chapters. The Introduction and Background section explores the international framework for social protection, the book’s objectives and methodology, the criteria for selecting the focus groups, and the overarching macro issues guiding the social protection approach. The book then provides an overview of the socioeconomic conditions in the four Arab countries under study, including poverty levels and regional disparities, followed by an examination of the current state of social protection in these countries. Subsequently, it offers an in-depth analysis of each target group, presenting policy options and alternatives for their inclusion in social protection and the necessary reforms. The concluding chapter puts forward several key findings and recommendations, including:

  • The imperative need for a new development model that addresses the structural causes of poverty and marginalization, based on the principle of the right to a decent work. This right encompasses other rights, such as education, health, and the right to development, and necessitates fundamental changes in social protection and development policies that target disadvantaged rural areas with limited livelihood opportunities and basic services.
  • A call for political, civil, and stakeholder entities to engage in an alternative political discourse in order to transition social protection toward a human rights-based approach. In some countries, this may require incorporating social protection into constitutional and legal frameworks. Furthermore, addressing fragmentation in existing social protection systems is crucial for enhancing their effectiveness and efficiency, and would necessitate integration and coordination among all elements of a country’s social protection system.
  • Strengthening good governance in the field of social protection, going beyond mere technical procedures. Governance entails various dimensions, including democracy and representation, technology, politics, and law. This book underscores the importance of stakeholder participation in achieving democracy; effective service provision and benefit management for the technical dimension; transparency and accountability of legislative and executive bodies for the political dimension; and comprehensive legal frameworks with a human rights perspective to provide mechanisms for complaints, verification, and legal redress.

Table of Contents

Executive Summary 1

Introduction and Background 2

The International Theoretical Framework for Social Protection 2

Objectives and Research Methodology 3

Criteria for Choosing the Different Vulnerable Groups 4

A Holistic Approach to Social Protection 6

Overview of the Context in the Arab Region 7

Social Protection in Arab Countries: Confronting Poverty and Fragility 10

The Intersection of Structural Factors with Political, Economic and Social Crises 10

Mapping Social Protection in the Studied Countries 11

Shared Characteristics Among the Studied Countries 17

Vulnerable Groups in Arab Social Protection Systems 18

Children 18

Informal Labor 20

Older Persons and Long-Term Care 23

NEETs 25

Conclusion and Recommendations 28

Endnotes 32


1 Meaning persons over the age of 60 or 65 depending on the country’s context.

The views represented in this paper are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Arab Reform Initiative, its staff, or its board.