Economic Research Forum (ERF)

Irène Selwaness


Irène Selwaness
Associate Professor, Faculty of Economics and Political Science, Cairo University

Irene Selwaness is as an associate professor at the Faculty of Economics and Political Science at Cairo University, Egypt. She received her master’s degree in quantitative economics and her PhD in labour economics from Université Paris 1– Panthéon Sorbonne. Her research examines economic development issues with interests in social protection, social policy, labour market analysis, and gender issues. Current projects include work on social protection, expansion of social insurance coverage, social policy and employment regulations, gender and labour markets, and the future of work, with a focus on the Middle East. Selwaness is a Research Fellow of the Economic Research Forum in Cairo, Egypt. She has consulted for a number of organizations including the ILO, the World Bank, the UN ESCWA,The Population Council, GIZ, and ODI.

Content by this Author

Social insurance in Egypt: between costly formality and legal informality

The rates of participation of Egyptian workers in contributory social insurance has continued to decline, even during times when the country has had positive annual growth rates. This column discusses key institutional elements in the design of the current social insurance scheme that have contributed to the growing gap in coverage, particularly the scheme’s cost and eligibility requirements.

Supporting employment opportunities for women in Egypt’s ICT sector

In Egypt today, the labour market has become increasingly inhospitable for women, with the decline in public sector jobs in recent decades. But this column highlights a potential cause for optimism. Female jobs in ICT are on the rise, having grown at a compound rate of 6.4% per year, compared with a decline of 1% per year for non-ICT jobs. To make the most of this promising trend, Egyptian policy-makers should aim to foster an attractive investment climate for international firms, with a focus on building up ICT training and offering more remote working opportunities.

Women’s employment and care work in MENA during the pandemic

Across the world, Covid-19 and associated policy measures that closed schools and nurseries led to increased care work for married women in households with young or school-aged children. But as research reported in this column shows, in the Middle East and North Africa, married women had already selected out of the types of work that were difficult to reconcile with care work, with the result that married women did not exit employment disproportionately during the pandemic.

Recognising and redistributing unpaid care work in Egypt

Countries like Egypt with significant gender imbalances in unpaid work typically have low female labour force participation. As this column reports, unpaid domestic care responsibilities fall primarily on women, hindering their ability to participate in the country’s paid economy. It is essential to nurture changes in policies and social norms that recognise and redistribute unpaid care work and reward paid care work.

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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.