American University of Beirut

Social Justice & Development Policy in the Arab World



    The Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs (IFI) in collaboration with the Bobst Center for Peace and Justice at Princeton University​ has launched the Social Justice and Development Policy in the Arab World research initiative to try to further understand through research the many different meanings of the phrase “social justice” and its social and economic policy implications Roughly two years ago, people marched on the streets of the Arab World demanding “Bread. Freedom. Dignity. Social Justice” (In Arabic: e'eish, horreya, karama, a'adala'h ijtima'iya). However, very little empirical work has been done to deconstruct those broad, yet heavily loaded concepts.


    The aim of the Social Justice and Development Policy in the Arab World initiative is to refine broad social justice categories and launch regional workshops to further shape our analysis of the meaning of social justice. We plan to hold lectures, panel discussions and roundtables with experts that will define and initiate research. We hope that our program becomes a credible and useful platform to empirically study the aftermath of the Arab uprisings and help policymakers design better, adequate policies in the field of social and economic development. 


    ​Social Justice & the City

    The aim of the Issam Fares Institute's Social Justice and the City program is to formulate an agenda for research that establishes a partnership between scholars, policy-makers, and activists in Lebanon (and beyond) working towards more inclusive cities. The program seeks to act as a platform where scholars, policy-makers, and activists can share reflections, experiences, and strategies (i) documenting, analyzing and reflecting on ongoing urban processes affecting the organization and life of the city, (ii) sharing and validating research with activists, affected communities, and other social groups who are potentially interested in sharing both the acquired competence and the pool of research tactics, and (iii) supporting and informing initiatives that hope to influence change through debates, media, publications, and advocacy. [read full concept note]

    The Social Justice and the City is currently engaged in two research tracks:

    1. The "Publics" in Urban Spaces/ Reclaiming the Urban Commons

    Demands for the protection and enhancement of public spaces have figured at the top of the social mobilization movements across the globe and a main dimension of the claims for social justice. In Greece, Turkey, as well as in Beirut, activists have vigorously defended "public" claims over space from what is widely perceived as the encroachment of the "private". This is hardly surprising since both professionals of the built environment and city dwellers have realized that livability and health go hand-in-hand with the availability of open, shared spaces in the city and that their absence provides additional evidence of the harsh realities of everyday urban life, particularly in the cities of the south.

    Yet, perceptions of the nature, functioning, and organization of public space contest the normative understandings of the "public" or "public-ness" adopted by professionals of the built environment. Indeed, while these understandings simplify the definition of public space to "open" and "accessible" areas, typically owned by state agencies, researchers have shown that openness and accessibility are frequently challenged by class, race, gender, and other social markers. They have also unraveled the ways in which social practices and historical processes of property formation complicate the clear-cut division of spaces into "public" and "private" zones. Instead, these researchers invite us to explore spaces and their publics in more plural forms, unravelling the complex forms of their historical production and current transformations.

    When thinking through the connection between social justice and shared urban spaces, we are motivated to move beyond the mere advocacy of "more parks" and "more public squares". In that vein, this track of the Social Justice and the City seeks to:

    • Expand the imagination of what the spatialization of "shared spaces" might mean,
    • Explore ways in which "shared claims" over city spaces can be strengthened, whether they are privately or publicly owned,
    • Explore existing forms of leisure, their spatial materialization, and the processes and networks that enable their existence.

    2. The Crisis of Affordable Housing

    The crisis of affordable urban housing in Lebanon dates back to the country's independence. Newspaper archives indicate that at least since the 1940s, policy-makers had recognized the dearth of options for middle and low-income groups seeking housing. Since then, the housing crisis has only intensified, as evidenced by the scattered policy reports and statistics that reflect poor public responses to the crisis.

    Within the dominant neoliberal framework of public policy-making of the last two decades, questions of access to housing have largely been framed in terms of "affordability" while housing policy has been reduced to a narrow set of market-based interventions such as partially subsidized loans. Instead, the aim of the Social Justice and the City is to re-infuse in the housing discourse a necessary political dimension where thinking through housing rights requires us to address larger questions that acknowledge the social values of housing and balance its imperative with those of the market.

    Recognizing, hence, that the market is not a fair arbitrator of spatial allocations, particularly when it comes to shelter, this project seeks to:

    • Document ongoing transformations in processes of housing acquisition in the low-income market of Beirut, particularly in relation to informal housing and rent control units where housing was historically provided either outside the framework of the market or through its distortion.
    • Learn from other national contexts where "the right of housing" has led to the introduction of numerous policy tools such as "inclusionary zoning", etc. By learning about/from these current processes of housing acquisition in the city, we hope to explore possibilities and venues through which the right to shelter can still be advocated.​

    Labor Movements and Unions the Quest for Social Justice in the Arab World

    In the wake of the uprisings, the Arab labor movement and its unions are rethinking their role in the quest for social justice and their relationship to the state, political forces, and civil society. They are rebuilding their strategy to fight social inequalities, corruption, unemployment, and unfavorable neoliberal policies. The uprisings have created an opportunity for citizens and workers to reclaim their social, economic, and political rights and to have a say in their future and the future of their respective country. The mission of the Labor Movements and Unions the Quest for Social Justice in the Arab World program is to facilitate knowledge production that ultimately empowers the Arab labor movement and its unions in this strategic phase. It aims to serve as a focal point and platform where scholars, policymakers, unionists, activists, and the public can exchange knowledge, ideas, strategies and policy recommendations in the quest for social and labor justice. 

    Collaborate with us
    The Labor Movements and Unions the Quest for Social Justice in the Arab World program welcomes suggestions for collaboration with other organizations or individuals who would like to work on matters of labor justice and equity. Please contact us for more information.

    In partnership with the Asfari Institute for Civil Society & Citizenship, and in collaboration with the International Labour Organization Regional Office for the Arab States, the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs has launched the Labor Movements and Unions the Quest for Social Justice in the Arab World research initiative, which was based on a preliminary workshop held in April 2015, during which scholars and collaborators from the ILO and the two institutes brainstormed for research questions worthy of exploring in order to empower the labor movement in its quest for social justice. A Call ​for Papers and Research Framework​ were thus written and released, and seven Arab country case studies of labor movements and unions are underway. The final expected outcome is a joint publication of the seven case studies.

    The case studies are listed in the following table:

    ​Country Focus
    ​Proposal Title
    ​Unions and Workers…Without a Movement!
    ​From ‘Umbrella’ to ‘Host’: The UGTT and Labor in Transition
    ​Occupied Palestine
    ​The Labor & Trade Union Movement and the Quest for Social Justice: Occupied Palestine (Case Study)
    ​Inside the ‘Duwwar al-Lulu’ uprising in Bahrain: The Bahraini Labor Movement’s Quest for Social Justice
    ​The Labor & Trade Union Movement in the Arab World and the Quest for Social Justice: Egypt as a Case Study
    ​Labor Movements and Unions and the Quest for Social Justice in the Arab World: The Case of Jordan
    ​The Labor Union Movement in Algeria: A Study of Independent Unions in Algeria


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