Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir on Human Development in the Arab Spring
Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir answers questions on his recently-completed essay entitled Human Development in the Arab Spring: An Analysis of Past Development and Today’s Morocco toward Shaping a Global Future.
Dr. Ben-Meir has been dedicated to the field of international development since he joined the Peace Corps as a volunteer in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco in 1993. Seven years later he co-founded the High Atlas Foundation (HAF), a Moroccan-U.S. nonprofit organization dedicated to grassroots development in Morocco. He continues to serve as its president, while on occasion writing as a sociologist. The views expressed in his latest essay are his own.
Read abstract here [hyperlink to abstract].
What was the catalyst for this essay?
It is important for us individually, and for HAF as an organization, to draw connections between what can be achieved locally – throughout Morocco, for example – and the implications of this on a national and international level.
When we see terrible conflicts continuing to rise in the region – and when in addition we know that there are approaches that generate solutions for meeting human development needs while also building trust and peace – then I feel an obligation to share that methodology and to suggest its relevance in different contexts. Moreover, there is a sense that time is of the essence, particularly in the context of the Arab Spring.
What is Morocco’s experience of the Arab Spring?
Morocco’s experience in the Arab Spring is actually the result of national actions taken particularly since the accession of King Mohammed VI – specific laws and programs put in place to promote human development, together with the administrative structure to implement and support this work. Intimately linked to this is the nation’s scheme for decentralization, resulting in greater regional and local autonomy. I believe decentralization for human development to be a transferable, prosperous, democratic and compassionate model.
The kingdom therefore has been at relative peace because the priority of sustainable development has been embedded firmly in the public discourse for years. However, what will ultimately decide Morocco’s experience of the Arab Spring is the practical implementation of its development plans and in this regard substantial improvements are needed.
As far as HAF is concerned, national and regional conditions have highlighted a broader purpose of our work, namely to help bring about a successful Morocco, one that achieves its human development goals through participation and decentralization and that will inspire people of other Arab Spring countries. In addition, the Arab Spring has created further urgency in what we do; we are spurred on to make each day as productive as possible and never to waste opportunities that not only enhance but also save lives.
How does the gap you mentioned between the theory and practical implementation of Morocco’s development plans influence the High Atlas Foundation?
Government agencies are very willing partners for community projects and national charters require popular participation in identifying projects for implementation. Working at a variety of levels in different regions of the country gives insight into programmatic gaps and opportunities.
There is an underlying issue namely that many thousands of facilitators trained in participatory methods are needed to catalyze community planning countrywide. Our great challenge is to acquire funding to help enable communities – who give their labor in kind – to realize the projects they have determined.
By the way, this is why community-managed organic agriculture and cooperatives – and initiatives such as HAF’s new farm-to-fork enterprise, HA3 – are vital for their economic future, providing the basis for much greater investment in further human development projects such as the provision of schools, safe drinking water systems and women-owned businesses.
One of our important goals as an organization is to be able to identify reforms and convey the information to Moroccan representatives. This essay points to a number of solutions I suggest are necessary in order to improve the administration of human development.
Your essay is able to reflect upon this summer’s tumultuous events in various parts of the Middle East. Are there any conclusions that are pertinent to the current situation in the region?
In Iraq, sub-regional autonomy remains likely the only way the nation will remain whole. Given that decentralization promotes this kind of autonomy and that human development actually builds decentralization, then one can see how this local development methodology should be widely applied in Iraq in order to secure its very existence. Current events are also a tragic outcome of the inexplicable misdirection of Iraq’s U.S.-led reconstruction after the catastrophic invasion and war.
In the case of Palestine, it is very possible that a decentralized public administration could help strengthen unity among the Palestinian people. Decentralization promotes political and economic self-reliance; by adopting this mechanism, the inordinate and stifling level of current dependency of the Palestinian people on Israeli products would be addressed as control and production become localized.
What is the essay’s proposed solution for the Western Sahara?
Regarding Morocco’s southern provinces- and speaking for myself – it is hardly possible to envisage a sustainable solution to the conflict that now spans generations, other than the ‘autonomy within Moroccan sovereignty’ arrangement. This is because I believe it is practically impossible to conceive that Morocco would consider ever renouncing this region, that is embedded in its identity and the walking away from which would thus constitute a mortal challenge to the nation. Within this reality. autonomy within sovereignty could be a flexible enough arrangement that would enable full expression and control in all areas of life for the people of the region.
How does the situation in the Western Sahara influence the work of the High Atlas Foundation?
We take the view that promoting human development concurrently promotes universal human rights, through the utilization of participatory management processes. HAF presently works in the Boujdour province and frequently does not find it easy to source international funding. We hope that individuals and organizations around the world will help HAF to implement the projects that the people of the Sahara have defined during community-wide meetings and to which they are dedicated.
To return now from the specific to the general, you pinpoint a heightened sense of urgency, in Morocco and throughout the MENA region, particularly in the context of the Arab Spring. What message do you seek to convey in this regard?
There is a race between the capacity to create sustainable development and forces that are unleashed by systemic poverty, including political upheaval. The Arab Spring embodies this tension; furthermore its trajectory will be determined by how this race progresses and if in fact we are able – or not – to achieve the popular development that is so necessary and so desired.
To obtain a copy of Dr. Ben-Meir’s essay, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org