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Ishac Diwan

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Ishac Diwan

Research Affiliate, Middle East Initiative




Ishac Diwan is a lecturer on public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and is the director for Africa and the Middle East at the growth lab of the Center for International Development.

Current research interests include growth strategies, the political economy of development, and the pro-active management of natural resources, wt a special interest in Africa and the Middle East. Ishac is also directing the Economic and Political Transformation program of the Economic Research Forum.

Ishac got his PhD in Economics from the University of California at Berkeley in 1984. He taught international finance at the New York University’s Business School between 1984-87, before joining the World Bank in 1987, initially in the Research Complex (1987-92) working on the debt crisis of the 1980s.

In 1992, Ishac joined the Bank’s Middle East department, first as the country economist for the West Bank and Gaza (1993-94), as an advisor to the emerging Palestinian Authority, and later, as a regional economist, where he led economic teams in Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Lebanon, and Yemen. He contributed to the creation of the prime network of economists in the Middle East, the Economic Research Forum, and of a regional policy forum, the Mediterranean Development Forum.

In 1996, Ishac joined the World Bank Institute and led the Economic Policy group (1996-2002), creating the Attacking Poverty Program and contributing to the initiation of the Global Development Network.

Ishac lived in Addis Abeba (2002-07) and Accra (2007-11), as the Bank’s Country Director for Ethiopia and Sudan, and then for Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, and Guinea. These were intense years of engagement wt governments, civil society, the private sector, and donors (which explains the lack of visible intellectual production during these years). Ishac led several ambitious initiatives, such as Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net, Ethiopia’s Protection of Basic Services Program, and in West Africa, initiatives to support the development of natural resources.

Ishac has worked on conflict prevention and on state building (in Palestine, Sudan, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Yemen, Guinea) and has participated in the Sudan Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the Darfur Peace Negotiations, and the Oslo negotiations.



By Date



February 2015

"Lebanon in the Syria Quagmire"


By Ishac Diwan, Research Affiliate, Middle East Initiative and Youssef Chaitani, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia

Lebanon’s sectarian governance system has been over 150 years in the making. But the Syrian fire next door, which has taken an increasing sectarian nature, is likely to burn for a long time. With such dire prospects, what is the fate of Lebanon’s governance system? Will it lead the country inexorably towards civil strife?



November 19, 2014

Podcast: "The Changing Mindset of Arab Youth from the Prism of Opinion Surveys" with Ishac Diwan


By Ishac Diwan, Research Affiliate, Middle East Initiative

An audio recording from Ishac Diwan, Distinguished Chair in Arab World Studies at Paris Sciences et Lettres, Visiting Researcher at Universite Dauphine and Paris School of Economics, and MEI Research Affiliate.

On November 19, 2014 at MEI, Professor Diwan presented his findings from analysis of the sixth wave of the World Values Survey, focusing on the Arab World and specifically on Arab Youth.



Getty Images

June 12, 2014

"Democracy and division in the Arab world"


By Mohamad M. Al-Ississ, Kuwait Foundation Visiting Scholar (Spring 2014), Middle East Initiative and Ishac Diwan, Research Affiliate, Middle East Initiative

"Tensions in Iraq may be dominating the headlines, but there are complex patterns of division and polarization across the Arab region. When the World Economic Forum polled experts and leaders on the world’s most significant challenges for the Outlook on the Global Agenda 2014 (now available in Arabic), rising societal tensions and polarization in the Middle East and North Africa came out top."



Creative Commons

December 3, 2013

"The Missing Conversation: How to Build a Moral Capitalism in the Arab Region"

Op-Ed, World Bank Blog

By Ishac Diwan, Research Affiliate, Middle East Initiative

"The Arab transition countries, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and Libya, are grappling with complex issues relating to personal values, the extent of freedom of speech, individual rights,  family matters, that all orbit around deep issues of identity and the respective roles of the individual, the state and society. These social conversations are constructive in that they reflect a rich pluralism of views in societies where conformity was the rule under dictatorship. But unfortunately, these dialogues are polarizing society, leading to violence and threatening chaos and a possible return to authoritarianism."




July 17, 2013

"Egypt's Revolutionary Reset"

Op-Ed, Project Syndicate

By Ishac Diwan, Research Affiliate, Middle East Initiative and Hedi Larbi

"Whether or not Egypt’s first-ever democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, was pushed aside by a military coup may be debatable, but it is undeniable that the June 30 protest that triggered his ouster was the largest mass movement in Egypt’s history. It was also glaring testimony to the failure of the first phase of Egypt’s revolution."



Wikimedia Commons

June 26, 2013

"Tunisia's Islamic Wild Card"

Op-Ed, Project Syndicate

By Ishac Diwan, Research Affiliate, Middle East Initiative and Hedi Larbi

"More than two years after the start of Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution, there is still doubt about whether Ennahda can oversee the completion of a transition to democracy. Indeed, since winning Tunisia’s first free election in 2011, Ennahda has been unable to choose definitively whether to support a pluralistic or an Islamist state. This ambivalence has led to a high level of polarization between liberals and Islamists--and to political violence."



International Monetary Fund

June 3, 2013

"Conditioning the Arab Transition"

Op-Ed, Project Syndicate

By Ishac Diwan, Research Affiliate, Middle East Initiative and Hedi Larbi

"While short-term pain is not unusual following the end of despotic regimes, long and protracted transitions can be terribly costly, requiring decades for societies to recover. Political impasse is not only depressing economies by discouraging trade and investment; it is also preventing the formation of governments that could implement much-needed economic and institutional reforms – and thus threatening to take these countries into a long downward spiral."



May 2013

"Understanding Revolution in the Middle East: The Central Role of the Middle Class"

Journal Article, Middle East Development Journal, volume 5

By Ishac Diwan, Research Affiliate, Middle East Initiative

This paper presents the outlines of a coherent, structural, long term account of the socioeconomic and political evolution of the Arab republics that can explain both the persistence of autocracy until 2011, and the its eventual collapse, in a way that is empirically verifable. The changing interests of the middle class would have to be a central aspect of a coherent story, on accounts of both distributional and modernization considerations, and that the ongoing transformation can be best understood in terms of their defection from the autocratic order to a new democratic order, which is still in formation.



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