This blog is written by Ahmed Goher (Economic Research Forum)
Economic Research Forum’s (ERF) 21st Annual Conference kicked off on March 20 in Gammarth, Tunisia, at the Golden Tulip Carthage Hotel. The event, joining over 200 economists, political scientists and policymakers from the region began with opening remarks by ERF Managing Director Ahmed Galal, Chairman of the Board of Trustees Abdel Latif Al-Hamad and Hedi Larbi of the Tunisian Economic Association.
The three deplored the heinous terrorist incident that rocked Tunisia’s Bardo Museum, leaving 23 dead, a few days prior to the conference, and emphasized that continued hard work is the best way to counter the sinister ambitions of extremists. They also expressed their gratitude to the ERF network and highlighted how, in the words of Hamad, “ERF is an institution that has grown from nothing to something important and dynamic thanks to its fellows, affiliates, management and staff.”
On his part, Galal said the conference was being held in Tunisia in light of the ‘Democracy and Economic Development’ theme under which it is being held and the fact that Tunisia is a place in which “democracy is in the making,” adding that the wide attendance to the conference is a testament that “[ERF] is supportive of countries that are democratic, inclusive and civilian […] We are not fearful and are not running away.” Galal also gave a brief rundown of ERF’s accomplishments over the past year and noted the introduction of a new policy dialogues program by ERF to bridge the gap between research and policymaking in the region. “ERF is like a submarine, it is very powerful but also underwater,” he explained, adding that for its fruits to fully materialize it needed to surface and ensure proper reach to the community of policymakers in the region.
Moreover, the ERF managing director outlined the reasons for holding ERF’s 21st Annual Conference under the theme of ‘Democracy and Development,’ noting that while democracy is important in its own right, there must be a better understanding of the causal relationship between development and democracy.
Finally, Larbi gave an overview of the difficult transitions that many countries in the region are undergoing, describing the process as “tumultuous,” as people lose hope due to the lengthy nature of the transitions and the ever deteriorating economic and political circumstances. He also made note of the concurrent spread of extremism and radical Islam in many countries – ideologies that in no way meet the aspirations of the region’s peoples who seek democracy. Still, he ended on an optimistic note, urging stakeholders to find appropriate ways to build and sustain the democratization processes being undergone. Proper management of these transitions to democracy, according to Larbi, hinges on the availability and utilization of the right tools and knowledge. In this context, ERF’s 21st Annual Conference, where different stakeholders can discuss, debate and benefit from the questions and experiences that are shared by participants, takes us one step closer to the goal of achieving prosperity for the region.