In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section International Social Work and Social Welfare: Middle East and North Africa

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Textbooks
  • International Reports and Databases
  • Journals
  • Social Movements, Civil Society, and Social Welfare
  • Policy
  • Teaching
  • Regional Social Work and Social Services Themes

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Social Work International Social Work and Social Welfare: Middle East and North Africa
John Graham, Alean Al-Krenawi, Megan E. Turner
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 March 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 March 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0082


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.

    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.

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

    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.

  • 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.x

    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.

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

    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.

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

    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.

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

    DOI: 10.1596/978-0-8213-6527-4

    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.

  • Issawi, Charles. 2005. An economic history of the Middle East and North Africa. New York: Routledge.

    A comprehensive economic history of the past two hundred years in the Middle East and North Africa, not just focusing on the changes related to the oil in the region. This book also touches on the Western impact and subsequent decline along with the region’s response.

  • 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.

    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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