This past December marked seven years since the start of the Arab Spring, one of the most “viral” revolutions of our time. In a matter of months, uprisings spread quickly from Tunisia to Yemen and changed the landscape of the region. While the causes and effects of the Arab Spring have been the subject of thorough analysis over the years, the revolutions emerged so quickly and with such force, in part, because of very palpable, muffled disillusionment. Concerns about issues from unemployment rates to rising food prices were voiced loudly, but fell upon deaf ears. And so, the grievances, frustrations of a young emerging generation flooded Facebook feeds and went viral on Twitter instead. Determination invaded squares and streets and there is no doubt that a mark was made. On the eve of the Spring’s anniversary however, we saw the renewal of protests in Tunisia and the heightening of the protracted conflict in Syria.
While land in and of itself may not have been at the sole issue on the agenda in 2011, inequality, patronage and biased distribution of resources were. Land rights played a primary role in the patronage systems across the region. Land and property confiscations and reallocation were used to punish some groups and individuals and reward others and played a large part in keeping governments in power for decades. Following the uprisings, one of the primary trends across the Arab Spring states, has been the high number of land and property claims by those who were dispossessed over decades of patronage-based autocratic rule. The good news is that these types of challenges, when given the proper attention, also present opportunities for reform and change.
What is still missing today is an effective mechanism to discuss concerns with regards to land rights in the region. If there’s a lesson to be learnt from the Arab Spring, it is that citizen concern needs to be met with a space, virtual or physical, where these can be aired out. This is, in part, what sparked the motivation for the organization of the First Arab Land Conference. The conference is set to take place in Dubai from the 26-28 February and hopes to highlight the cross-cutting nature of land by discussing a wide variety of interconnected issues. These include women’s land rights, land and business, land and technology, as well as land, housing and refugee rights.
Wael Zakout, Global Lead for Land and Geospatial at the World Bank and one of the conference’s main organizers, says the following of the event: “There is a deep need and demand from the region for this knowledge exchange. We hope this conference will be a platform for exchanges and knowledge sharing among government officials, academia, private sector and civil society on areas that related to property rights and land governance reform. We also hope this will not be a one off event, rather starting a new area of collaboration among the Arab countries in areas benefiting citizens and meeting the demand of the young people who demanded justice and good governance 7 years ago."
This blog is part of a series devoted to raising awareness of the key issues that will be explored at the First Arab Land Conference. To be part of the event’s discussions, follow the Twitter hashtag #arablandconference2018 or follow the handles @landportal @GLTNnews @UNHabitat @WorldBank