MENA Regional Profile 2018

This regional profile summarizes the findings of the Social Rights Monitor carried out in the MENA in 2018. The Social Rights Monitor is a tool developed by SOLIDAR members and partners to allow partner organizations and allies based in the country to assess the situations in terms of social protection, decent work and an enabling environment and track the progress made since the implementation of the European Neighbourhood Policy and the partnership priorities established with the EU. Most of the reports have been developed in the framework of a regional programme “Mobilizing for Social Justice: Decent Work, Social Protection and Freedom of Association in the Middle East and North Africa region” led by SOLIDAR.

The European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) was revised in 2015 in order to better respond to the new challenges in the Neighbourhood. Adopting a differentiated approach to better reflect countries’ needs, while ensuring joint ownership and more flexibility, the revised European Neighbourhood Policy has put greater emphasis on stabilization, resilience and security. Although these three components are very important, ENP policies should not overlook the social components. The Social Rights Monitor highlights instead that a comprehensive approach should be adopted for achieving sustainable development integrating all the elements: people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership. In this context, investing in achieving universal social protection and quality education, and decent and sustainable job generation are strong means to ensure stability, security and achieve resilience.

In light of it, our recommendations towards the EU and its European Neighborhood Policy are to:

  • Base the partnership with Southern Neighbourhood countries on the promotion of human rights and prosperity
  • Provide assistance for the implementation of political and economic reforms leading to sustainable and inclusive socio-economic policies
  • Enhance an enabling environment through structured dialogue, transparent and inclusive consultation processes taking place at all stages of policy formulations
  • Use the ENP as a tool to enhance social dialogue and promote legislative reforms for freedom of association and right to organize
  • Put greater emphasis on policies and reforms aiming at strong social protection systems and social development, with a specific focus on most vulnerable groups
  • Ensure that private sector development within the partnership has a clear mandate to enhance productivity and improve productive sectors with added-value production.
  • Promote fight against corruption, tax heavens and illicit financial flows




Consultations with civil society organizations, including SOLIDAR members and project partners, have been conducted within the seven countries covered by the project Decent Work, Social Protection and Freedom of Association in the Middle East and North Africa: Mobilizing for Social Justice by strengthening and promoting CSOs, social movements and independent trade unions’ role in reforms and democratic changes’. Qualitative feedback was collected on the basis of a questionnaire, the so-called ‘Social Rights Monitor’, offering room for civil society organizations and independent trade unions to explain and provide input along three dimensions, namely social protection, decent work and freedom of association. It includes the following indicators: (1) Access to essential services in particular health care; (2) Income security; (3) Poverty reduction and opportunities; (4) labour rights and working conditions; (5) Employment; (6) Social dialogue; (7) Civil society space; (8) Freedom of peaceful assembly and association; (9) Freedom of expression; opinion; and rights to information.

Key findings

Social protection

Most Arab countries have introduced or expanded their social protection measures since 2010, however such measures fall short of addressing structural challenges and strengthening social protection systems (ILO World Social Protection Report 2017-2019);

  • Responses to the Social Right Monitor show that the region still lacks effective, efficient and accessible social protection systems;
  • Systems in place are fragmented and do not reach the whole population, either because it can be targeted, or because it only concerns certain sectors (private vs public, formal vs informal);
  • The quality, affordability and accessibility of essential services such as education or health care remains very problematic;
  • Migrants and refugees are also often very much excluded from public services and social protection schemes;
  • With the economic situation, austerity measures have often been chosen as the preferred option by the States, yet it is contradictory to improving social conditions, reducing inequalities, bringing new opportunities and eradicating poverty.

Decent Work

  • Unemployment rate reach around 10% in the Middle East and around 12% in North Africa (2017 ILO World Employment Social Outlook).
  • Unemployment rate are especially higher amongst youths (about 30%), women and PwDs;
  • Respondents to the social rights monitor, highlighting the real need in the region to provide new job opportunities, and to match education programmes to market’s needs;
  • Full employment in the region will also depend on the capacity of the economy to absorb new waves of labour, such as migrants and refugees;
  • Wage schemes throughout the region have been reported as inadequate, fragmented and discriminatory. Countries with a legal minimum wages do not ensure it is applied thoroughly across sectors and population categories.

Freedom of Association

  • Collective bargaining is difficult due to restrictions, the lack of recognition of independent trade unions and the imbalance in negotiating power;
  • In some countries, the representativeness of workers is very questionable and very much challenged, with (independent) trade unions not necessarily or regularly consulted;
  • The representation and bargaining power of trade unions is often weakened by the fragmentation of the trade union movement, and political parties’ control over the leadership in some federations;
  • While the enabling environment varies to a certain degree from one country to another, all respondents to the SRM report administrative, bureaucratic, practical and legal constraints to their freedom of association, expression and access to information. A major trend seems to indicate a continuous shrinking space for CSOs in the region. Unable to push forward civil society’s concerns to decision-making levels, another trend of disillusion and discontentment is growing, ultimately threatening the stability of the region.

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