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Social Work International Social Work and Social Welfare: Middle East and North Africa
by
John Graham, Alean Al-Krenawi

Introduction

Social welfare in the twenty-one countries of the Middle East and North Africa has been influenced by local cultural, political, social, and economic traditions, as well as imported models of social welfare. But each country has evolved differently due to distinctive historical, socioeconomic, and demographic factors. This entry focuses primarily on how the ideals of social welfare have been established within these countries throughout the past century. It discusses how various colonial assumptions have blended with the local, and how colonial and postcolonial circumstances have intersected with social welfare by way of geopolitical conflict and interethnic disputes and weakened political institutions and socioeconomic effects related to poverty, inequality, and political repression. This entry examines, first, the economic, social, and political features of social welfare services in different countries at various stages of development. After this, it examines social policy and welfare services and how they are influenced and fostered in different countries. Next it looks at the role of social work and social service education and the relevance of this sector among the different regions. The final section recognizes the trends and challenges facing this sector in an ever-changing world as these countries continue to develop regional models of practice. The focus throughout is on major works in the field, for no one document could cover all of the myriad scholarship that has been published.

Introductory Works

The references in this section provide insights into social policy and social welfare issues in the Middle East and North African regions. Al-Krenawi and Graham 2003 presents social work as a Western concept and demonstrates how it has infiltrated these regions as a consequence of colonialism. The authors argue that one of the manifestations of the eighty years of colonial influence in the two regions is the ongoing process of imposing Western models of intervention, which intersect with the local, rendering them unique to the region. The realm of social welfare and policy has also been affected by colonial infiltration. Bayet 2002 explains that the Western-influenced concepts have now become a part of these two regions and points to the constant struggle between traditional political forces and neoliberal ideals. Bush 2004 suggests that there is a neoclassical bias in the study of poverty in the region, but De Soto 2000 takes an alternative look at the origins of poverty in the region, using the city of Cairo, Egypt, as a case study. Barakat 1993 explains Arab cultural perspectives in greater detail, allowing for a better understanding of the role of social work as well as policy in these evolving societies. Iqbal 2006 presents an empirical analysis of the poverty plaguing these regions, calling for stronger governmental representation in the social welfare sector. El-Ghonemy 1998 presents a regional comparison of the successes and failures of Arab welfare systems and explains the differences in wealth distribution among Arab countries.

  • Barakat, Halim. 1993. The Arab world: Society, culture, and state. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    Offers a perspective of Arab culture from an Arabic point of view written for a predominantly Western audience. To better understand the role of social work in the Arab world, it is important to understand the society from within.

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  • Bayet, Asef. 2002. Activism and social development in the Middle East. International Journal of Middle East Studies 34:1–28.

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    Provides a perspective of the current populations of Middle Eastern countries as they struggle between implementing social policy—by combining older traditional regimes—and introducing neoliberal ideas as part of social development as it is a consequence of colonialism.

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  • Bush, Ray. 2004. Poverty and neo-liberal bias in the Middle East and North Africa. Development and Change 35.4: 673–695.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.0012-155X.2004.00375.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Suggests that there is a neoclassical bias in the dominant literature on poverty in the Middle Eastern and North African region. The author suggests that poverty in the region is not a result of exclusion but rather a consequence of how poor people are differentially incorporated into the economic and political process.

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  • De Soto, Hernando. 2000. The mystery of capital: Why capitalism triumphs in the West and fails everywhere else. New York: Basic Books.

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    Studies the origins of poverty and the failure of capitalism in third world and former communist countries. Suggests that poverty is maintained in these countries through the inability of the poor to enter economic markets, regardless of owning tradable properties and goods. Cairo, Egypt, is one of several cities examined.

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  • El-Ghonemy, M. Riad. 1998. Affluence and poverty in the Middle East. New York: Routledge.

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    A regional study of the causes and consequences of wealth distribution in different Arab countries. El-Ghonemy analyzes and compares the impact of government policies and government intervention in social welfare in opposition to the free activity of the market.

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  • Iqbal, Farrakh. 2006. Sustaining gains in poverty reduction and human development in the Middle East and North Africa. Washington, DC: World Bank.

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    Offers an indication of poverty levels over the last few decades by examining human development indicators. This provides more insight into the obstacles facing the Middle East and North Africa in terms of poverty reduction.

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  • Al-Krenawi, Alean, and John R. Graham. 2003. Principles of social work practice in the Muslim Arab world. Arab Studies Quarterly 25.4: 75–91.

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    This introductory article offers a Muslim Arab perspective on the principles of social work while understanding that the principle of social work is primarily a Northern concept and is subsequently a consequence of colonialism.

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Textbooks

Watts, et al. 1995 offers an international overview of social work education, giving a summary of how different regions view the sector and providing insight into how it is perceived in different regions around the world. It is a great textbook for studying social work education. Healy 2008 presents an overview of the origins of international social work, providing some detailed information on this process in different parts of the world, including a brief history of social work in the Middle Eastern and North African region.

  • Healy, Lynne M. 2008. International social work: Professional action in an interdependent world. 2d ed. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Recognizing that social work is now a global profession, Healy uses the themes of global interdependence and professional action to describe practice in parts of the world that differ from those in North America and Europe, thus demonstrating the interdependence between local and international practices.

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  • Watts, Thomas D., Doreen Elliott, and Nazneen S. Mayadas, eds. 1995. International handbook on social work education. Westport, CT: Greenwood.

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    Provides an overview of social work education as it relates to different parts of the world. The chapters on the Middle East and Africa describe the progression of social work education in each respective region.

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International Reports and Databases

The reports in this section are good sources of information, offering current and useful documents on these two regions in an organized manner. The website of the United Nations Children’s Fund provides detailed information on the organization’s goals for children in the Middle Eastern and North African countries. The Arab Human Development Report is prepared annually by the United Nations Development Programme, with each issue focusing on a particular developmental issue. United Nations Development Programme 2005 puts an emphasis on the development of women’s roles in Arab communities; United Nations Development Programme 2004 examines the current social structures and future goals of these countries; United Nations Development Programme 2003 examines the state of microfinance and its role within these societies; and United Nations Development Programme 2002, the first release of the series, provides an overview of social, economic, and political issues. It is also important to recognize the vast differences among countries within the Middle East and North Africa. As small elites within some countries are flourishing from the effects of an oil boom, vast majorities throughout the region, in rentier states and not, are still struggling with poverty. Adams and Page 2001, World Bank 2002, and World Bank 2005 study the social structures and challenges facing the people in the Middle East and North Africa. Adams and Page 2001 discusses poverty reduction in these regions, World Bank 2002 presents the current framework for social protection and how it can be reformed and improved for future generations, and World Bank 2005 discusses the issue of HIV/AIDS and the importance of proactively dealing with this issue before it becomes an epidemic.

  • Adams, Richard H., Jr., and John Page. 2001. Holding the line: Poverty reduction in the Middle East and North Africa, 1970–2000. Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the Economic Research Forum for the Arab Countries, Iran and Turkey, Manama, Bahrain, 25–27 October.

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    Presents a detailed explanation for different poverty levels in the region and the sustainability of the poverty reduction success of some countries in times of economic change. Available online.

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  • Bayat, Asef. 2000. Social movements, activism, and social development in the Middle East. Civil Society and Social Movements Programme Paper no. 3. Geneva: United Nations Research Institute for Social Development.

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    Highlights the importance of Islamist movements as the Middle Eastern version of social movements, with a focus on how they contribute to social welfare by providing services and assistance. However, there is more to social development in the Arab world, including the achievement of social and economic rights, conditions that Middle Eastern nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) fail to provide. Available online.

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  • United Nations Children’s Fund: Middle East and North Africa.

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    This website offers a guide to all the Middle Eastern and North African countries, providing relevant information related to the United Nations Children’s Fund goals in each country.

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  • United Nations Development Programme. 2002. Arab human development report 2002: Creating opportunities for future generations.

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    The first of a series of reports by the United Nations Development Programme. Three issues are identified as being “in deficit” in the Arab world: acquisition of knowledge, political freedoms, and women’s rights. The report is an excellent source of data and detailed information on the economic and social situations of the region. Available online.

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  • United Nations Development Programme. 2003. Arab human development report 2003: Building a knowledge society.

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    Focuses on the state of microfinance and how it has progressed since its recent inception. Offers guidelines on how to successfully implement a microfinance project and aims to develop sustainable institutions that build agency rather than simply disburse financial aid. Available online.

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  • United Nations Development Programme. 2004. Arab human development report 2004: Towards freedom in the Arab world.

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    Presents the Arab world as it stands today, a society in transition with a disparity gap between where the residents stand and what they hope for. Examines existing social structures and identifies what needs to be implemented to help build human capacity to help the Arab world accomplish what the residents hope to achieve. Available online.

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  • United Nations Development Programme. 2005. Arab human development report 2005: Towards the rise of women in the Arab world.

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    Focuses on the importance of Arab women achieving a level of development in all Arab states. According to the report, women need to be provided with better access to the “tools” of development, such as education and health care. Available online.

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  • World Bank. 2002. Reducing vulnerability and increasing opportunity: Social protection in the Middle East and North Africa. Washington, DC: World Bank.

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    Presents the current framework for social protection in both the Middle East and North Africa, and serves as a guide to how the current system can be reformed to become a sustainable alternative framework.

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  • World Bank. 2005. Preventing HIV/AIDS in the Middle East and North Africa: A window of opportunity to act. Washington, DC: World Bank.

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    Although HIV/AIDS is only prevalent in high-risk groups, the current social structure could enable an epidemic. This book offers suggestions as to how this epidemic can be curbed by focusing on social issues.

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Journals

Several journals, and specifically social work journals, have published articles on international social work in the Middle East and North Africa. The journals with an area studies emphasis include Arab Studies Quarterly and the International Journal of Middle East Studies. Both journals present articles relating to social, economic, and political issues that affect the people in the Middle East and North Africa. African Development Review emphasizes economics. As a publication of the African Development Bank, this journal reviews economic remedies of the past as well as current activities across Africa. Research on the region also appears in various journals that are not focused on area studies; the International Journal of Social Psychiatry is a prominent example.

Social Movements, Civil Society, and Social Welfare

The Middle East and North Africa have an eighty-year history with social work that is mostly based on Western practices. As it is a fairly recent phenomenon, governments as well as local and international nongovernmental organizations are trying to establish social structures and implement social policy that fits with their countries’ cultural and religious beliefs as well as what the populace needs. They are continuously trying to balance the Western notions of social welfare within each country’s respective cultural context. The United Nations Research Institute for Social Development looks into the cultural effects of social welfare. As this entry focuses primarily on the Middle East and North Africa, it is important to recognize the sources that offer insight into this topic from the said regions. Bayet 2002 examines how the people in certain Middle Eastern countries are implementing a grassroots approach to social development, including microfinance projects depicted in Brandsma and Burjorjee 2004. Clark 2004 examines three welfare organizations in three countries in the Middle East, while Jad 2007 focuses on the role nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) play in political progress, specifically the effects on women. Those interested in social change and civil society are advised to consult Ismael 2005, a depiction of the Arab world, and Ismael 2008, an examination of communism in Iraq. Along with Sadiki 2000 and Abdelrahman 2004, they provide strong evidence of the limits of social change in the Arab Middle East.

  • Abdelrahman, Maha M. 2004. Civil society exposed: The politics of NGOs in Egypt. London: Tauris Academic.

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    While focusing specifically on Egyptian society, this book offers insight into the role of nongovernmental organizations in providing social services, as well as how this relates to the government’s role in this respect.

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  • Bayet, Asef. 2002. Activism and social development in the Middle East. International Journal of Middle East Studies 34:1–28.

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    Examines how people from this region are taking social development into their own hands through the formation of grassroots organizations while also maintaining their cultural traditions.

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  • Brandsma, Judith, and Deena Burjorjee. 2004. Microfinance in the Arab states: Building inclusive financial sectors. New York: United Nations Capital Development Fund.

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    Explains how microfinance projects can help build sustainable human resources and encourage human capacity, allowing for social policy to progress and engaging people rather than providing financial handouts.

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  • Clark, Janine A. 2004. Islam, charity, and activism. Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press.

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    Presents the results of case studies of different welfare organizations in three countries of the Middle East. The results show how these organizations promote social networks among middle-class groups and do not engage the poorer classes, as the common belief suggests.

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  • Ismael, Tareq Y. 2005. The communist movement in the Arab world. New York: RoutledgeCurzon.

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    Examines the concept of Arab communism. Explains how Arab communism was born as a result of the world communist movement and studies its role within Arab communities and, consequently, its impact on society.

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  • Ismael, Tareq Y. 2008. The rise and fall of the Communist Party of Iraq. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Offers a look into the evolution of the Communist Party of Iraq from a leader within the conservative monarchy to a servant under US occupation, and examines how this progression has impacted Iraqi society.

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  • Jad, Islah. 2007. NGOs: Between buzzwords and social movements. Development in Practice 17.4–5: 622–629.

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    Questions the role played by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in the political progress of the women’s movement in Palestine, suggesting that the “NGOization” of the movement is moving the issue away from politics.

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  • Sadiki, Larbi. 2000. Popular uprisings and Arab democratization. International Journal of Middle East Studies 32:71–95.

    DOI: 10.1017/S002074380002105XSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Discusses the collapse of the state in many Arab countries during the 1970s and 1980s, as well as the consequent “bread uprisings” that erupted throughout the Arab world. The author suggests that these riots are at the roots of the democratization process seen in Arab countries during the past twenty years.

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  • World Bank, Office of the Chief Economist, North Africa and Middle East Region. 2005. Middle East and North Africa, economic developments and prospects: Oil booms and revenue management. Washington, DC: World Bank.

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    As the wealthy countries in these regions continue to grow at a rapid rate, it is important to consider how this impacts society in terms of poverty, homelessness, and employment. This report examines how these regions can continue to grow while continuing to focus on the population. Available online.

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Policy

Several articles focus on the policy aspect as it relates to social welfare. World Bank 2005 concentrates mainly on the different aspects policymakers need to consider, such as cultural contexts, issues pertaining to religious practices, and balancing Western ideas with traditional values. Ismael 2003 and Moghadam 2003 relate to culturally specific issues, such as polygamy, war and terrorism, and women’s social status, in addition to providing analyses of social systems, which are not often found in Western social policy, that should be considered in these regions. While Abdelrahman 2004 analyzes nongovernmental organization (NGO) activity and how the organizations operate in Egypt, Brandsma and Burjorjee 2004 looks at alternative sources of aid, such as the microfinance project. The former presents a more traditional form of aid, whereas the latter looks at reforming social structures to enable human capacity.

  • Abdelrahman, Maha, M. 2004. Civil society exposed: The politics of NGOs in Egypt. Cairo: American Univ. in Cairo Press.

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    Analyzes the empirical case of Egyptian civil society to determine the role that nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) play in social and political change. Concludes that civil society is a politically contested terrain characterized by authoritarian and repressive tendencies.

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  • Brandsma, Judith, and Deena Burjorjee. 2004. Microfinance in the Arab states: Building inclusive financial sectors. New York: United Nations Capital Development Fund.

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    Provides information that will help developing nations create social structures that enable them to build human capacity. The microfinance project is designed to encourage people to not rely on social welfare polices but to create new social structures.

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  • Ismael, Shereen T. 2003. Social policy in the Arab world. Arab Studies Quarterly 25.4: 1–15.

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    Presents a single case study describing the social policy in Iraq. Locating the analysis in a specific time and space, the article is an excellent source of detailed information and statistical data on Iraq’s social policy, its interactions in the international context, and its successes and failures before and after the Gulf War of 1990–1991.

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  • Moghadam, Valentine M. 2003. Modernizing women: Gender and social change in the Middle East. Boulder, CO: Lynne Reinner.

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    Studies gender and social change in the Middle East, North Africa, and Afghanistan. This is a policy-oriented effort that describes the role played by women in social change as well as the impact such social change has had on women’s social and political status.

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  • World Bank, Office of the Chief Economist, North Africa and Middle East Region. 2005. Middle East and North Africa, economic developments and prospects: Oil booms and revenue management. Washington, DC: World Bank.

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    The emphasis of this report is on managing wealth and economic development with social progression. As some countries in these regions are experiencing an influx of wealth, it is important to consider social policy along with wealth management. Available online

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Teaching

Teaching social work in the Middle East and North Africa is valuable because it differs immensely from the social welfare known in North America. Ragab 1995 provides information on how this topic is perceived and taught in different regions of the world. It indicates the importance attributed by governments, local and international organizations, and schools in each respective region. Haj Yahia 1997 discusses the cultural conflicts encountered by Arab social work students studying in Western institutions and suggests methods that will provide culturally adjusted study environments for these students.

  • Haj Yahia, Muhammad M. 1997. Culturally sensitive supervision of Arab social work students in Western universities. Social Work 42.2: 166–174.

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    Examines the conflicts an Arab student encounters when studying social work at a Western university. Emphasizes the importance of taking into account the cultural identity of the Arab student as a principle of culturally sensitive supervision.

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  • Ragab, Ibrahim A. 1995. Middle East and Egypt. In International handbook on social work education. Edited by Thomas D. Watts, Doreen Elliott, and Nazneen S. Mayadas, 281–304. Westport, CT: Greenwood.

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    This handbook offers chapters discussing the topics of social work and welfare practices in various regions of the world. This specific chapter provides knowledge on the regions and helps develop a better understanding of the cultural context.

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Regional Social Work and Social Services Themes

The core issues engaging social work and social policies in the Middle East and North Africa are closely related to those engaging the Western world. However, regional religious and cultural beliefs hold great influence over perception and implementation. Several sources describe conceptions of social work and mental health in the Middle East and North Africa. Okasha 1999 examines the concern that mental health issues are not getting enough attention because the Arab world is not trained or equipped to deal with this issue. Ragab 1995 provides general background information regarding social work education around the world and discusses how the subject is addressed from one country to another based on social structures in these regions. How these structures have evolved over time in the Muslim Arab world is examined in Al-Krenawi and Graham 2003, which discusses how social work can continue to progress and be a positive influence and remain culturally appropriate. Douki, et al. 2003 shows how traditional cultural values create a wall of silence around the issue of wife abuse in Arab countries, and Okasha 2003 finds that stigma and cultural boundaries in Arab countries have a harmful affect on mental health services. The implications of cultural context on social work practice are found in the Al-Krenawi 2001 guidelines for cross-cultural social work and in the Haj Yahia 2000 description of Arab social workers’ conception of child maltreatment. The progress that could be achieved through welfare policies in the Arab world is discussed in Fargues 2005 and finds echoes in the Zuhur 2003 call for policies to empower women.

  • Douki, S., F. Nacef, A. Belhadj, A. Bouasker, and R. Ghachem. 2003. Violence against women in Arab and Islamic countries. Archives of Women’s Mental Health 6:165–171.

    DOI: 10.1007/s00737-003-0170-xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Points to the conspiracy of silence surrounding wife abuse in Arab countries among perpetrators, authorities, practitioners, and victims. This silence stems from the notion that domestic violence is supported by God and Islam. The author suggests that approval of wife abuse has more to do with cultural customs than with religion.

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  • Fargues, Philippe. 2005. Women in Arab countries: Challenging the patriarchal system? Reproductive Health Matters 13.2: 43–48.

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    Attributes the declining fertility rates in Arab countries to several factors, including states’ policies providing equal education for girls. These, combined with rapidly growing women’s activism and political lobbying, set a challenge for the Arab traditional patriarchal system.

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  • Haj Yahia, Muhammad M. 2000. Child maltreatment: The approach of Arab social workers in Israel. International Social Work 43.2: 149–161.

    DOI: 10.1177/002087280004300202Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Addresses how child maltreatment is perceived among Arab social workers in Israel. The article suggests that Arab social workers need to be further educated regarding the definition of maltreatment, means of identification, risk factors, and the social worker’s role in working with maltreated children.

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  • Al-Krenawi, Alean. 2001. Práctica intercultural con immigrantes: Los árabes. Revista de Treball Social 162:7–25.

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    In Spanish. Addresses social work practice with Arab people. Argues the need to integrate informal social work practice–based theory into formalized theories to create culturally appropriate social work practice for Arab people. It suggests that sociocultural factors should be taken into account as variables influencing individuals’ mental states. (English translation of the title: Cross-cultural social work practice with immigrants: The Arab case.)

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  • Al-Krenawi, Alean, and John R. Graham. 2003. Principles of social work practice in the Muslim Arab world. Arab Studies Quarterly 25.4: 75–91.

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    Presents an overview of social work and social welfare in the Muslim Arab world, offering insight into how they were established and how they have progressed since inception.

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  • Okasha, Ahmed. 1999. Mental health services in the Arab world. Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal 5.2: 223–230.

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    Studies the social problems that are a consequence of economic issues within the Arab world. The capacity to address these problems is not developed, and the social infrastructure is not in place, yet the countries are faced with an increasing need for mental health services.

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  • Okasha, Ahmed. 2003. Mental health services in the Arab world. Arab Studies Quarterly 25.4: 39–52.

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    Offers a comprehensive investigation of mental health services in Arab countries. Among the issues discussed are challenges for mental health practice, services and service providers, policy, and legislation. The author finds the current state of mental health services lacking in all accounts and calls for broad changes in this area.

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  • Ragab, Ibrahim A. 1995. Middle East and Egypt. In International handbook on social work education. Edited by Thomas D. Watts, Doreen Elliott, and Nazneen S. Mayadas, 281–304. Westport, CT: Greenwood.

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    Provides information on how social work is perceived and taught in different regions of the world. Ragab indicates the importance attributed by government, local and international organizations, and schools in each respective region.

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  • Zuhur, Sherifa. 2003. Women and empowerment in the Arab world. Arab Studies Quarterly 25.4: 17–29.

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    Examines the complex nature and processes of women’s empowerment in Arab Middle Eastern and North African countries and points to the crucial role of state and social welfare polices in leading the social change toward women’s empowerment.

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LAST MODIFIED: 12/14/2009

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195389678-0082

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