Economic Research Forum (ERF)

Ferid Belhaj

Author

Ferid Belhaj
Vice President for the Middle East and North Africa, The World Bank

Ferid Belhaj assumed the position of World Bank Group Vice President for Middle East and North Africa on July 1, 2018. Prior to this, Mr. Belhaj served as the Chief of Staff of the President of the World Bank Group. From 2012 to 2017, Mr. Belhaj was World Bank Director for the Middle East, in charge of World Bank work programs in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq and Iran, based in Beirut, Lebanon.

Content by this Author

Distrust fuels protests in the Middle East and North Africa

Street protests are enveloping many countries in the Middle East and North Africa – and the fundamental cause is a growing sense of individual uncertainty and distrust of governments. This column argues that governments in the region must restore confidence in their abilities to lead change. More open markets can help to unleash the full potential of individuals in MENA countries – but to do so requires open governments.

Rethinking the role of the state in the Middle East and North Africa

What should be the role of the state in MENA economies? This column argues that countries in the region should try to increase their level of accountability towards their citizenry by inculcating a culture of ‘value for money’, promoting the emergence of independent, yet accountable, regulators and relying less on the state to rejuvenate their economies.

Fair competition is needed to empower women economically in the Arab world

The participation rates of women in the labour market in Arab countries are the lowest in the world. This column argues that remedying the under-representation of women in the labour force is a social and economic imperative for the region. There are three dimensions for action to realise the potential of Arab women: amending laws and regulations; instilling fair competition in markets; and promoting the digital economy.

The economic and social transformation of the Middle East and North Africa

The crises that began with the Arab revolts signal the urgent need for economic and social transformation in the Middle East and North Africa. Yet there has been near universal failure to implement the structural reforms required to transform hidebound, state-dominated economies into modern ones that embrace technology and recognise the salutary impact of competition and private enterprise. This column outlines what has to change.

How the Middle East can escape the middle-income trap

The Middle East and North Africa urgently needs a new social contract focused on economically empowering the hundreds of millions of youth who are expected to join the labour market in the coming decades. This Project Syndicate column argues that the key to success will be technological adoption, adaptation and innovation, encouraged and facilitated by governments.

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Sustaining entrepreneurship: lessons from Iran

Does entrepreneurial activity naturally return to long-term average levels after big economic disturbances? This column presents new evidence from Iran on trends in entrepreneurship among various categories of firm size, sector and location – and suggests policies that could be effective in promoting entrepreneurial activities.

Happiness in the Arab world: should we be concerned?

Several Arab countries have low rankings in the latest comparative assessment of average happiness across the world. But as this column explains, the average is not a reliable summary statistic when applied to ordinal data. The evidence from more robust analysis of socio-economic inequality in happiness suggests that policy-makers should be less concerned about happiness indicators than the core development objective of more equitable social conditions for citizens.

Financial constraints on small firms’ growth: pandemic lessons from Iran

How does access to finance affect the growth of small businesses? This column presents new evidence from Iran before and during the Covid-19 pandemic – and lessons learned by micro, small and medium-sized enterprises.

The economics of Israeli war aims and strategies

Israel’s response to last October’s Hamas attack has led to widespread death and destruction. This column outlines the impact thus far, including the effects on food scarcity, migration and the Palestinian economy in both Gaza and the West Bank.

It’s too early to tell what happened to the Arab Spring

Did the Arab Spring fail? This column presents a view the consensus view from ERF’s recent annual conference in Morocco: careful analysis of the fundamental drivers of democratic transitions suggests that it’s too early to tell.

Arab regional cooperation in a fragmenting world

As globalisation stalls, regionalisation has emerged as an alternative. This column argues that Arab countries need to face the new realities and move decisively towards greater mutual cooperation. A regional integration agenda that also supports domestic reforms could be an important source of growth, jobs and stability.

Gender differences in business record-keeping and planning in Iraq

Only one in every ten informal businesses in Iraq is led by a woman. Yet as research summarised in this column reveals, those businesses are more likely to set budgets and sales targets, and to keep business records. This may be evidence of the role of social exclusion in motivating greater reliance on the formal bureaucratic system.

Self-employment in MENA: the role of religiosity and personal values

How important are individual’s values and beliefs in influencing the likelihood that they will embrace the responsibilities, risks and entrepreneurial challenge of self-employment? This column presents evidence from 12 countries in the Middle East and North African region on the roles of people’s religiosity and sense of personal agency in their labour market choices.

Reformed foreign ownership rules in UAE: the impact on business entry

In an effort to stimulate economic growth and diversify the economy, the government of the United Arab Emirates has recently implemented regulatory reform that allows 100% foreign ownership of companies operating in the country. This column examines the implications of the reform for entry of new firms in Dubai, using unique data on new business licences in the emirate.

Conflict and debt in the Middle East and North Africa

With the global economy is in its third year of deceleration amid declining inflation and oil prices, the Middle East and North Africa grew by just 1.9% in 2023, with a forecast for growth in 2024 at 2.7%. In addition to heightened uncertainty brought on by the conflict centred in Gaza, many countries in the region are also grappling with pre-existing vulnerabilities, including rising debt levels. This column summarises a new report that unpacks the nature of debt in MENA – and explains the critical importance of keeping rising debt stocks in check.