Economic Research Forum (ERF)

Ishac Diwan

Editorial board

Ishac Diwan
Director of Research, Finance for Development Lab, Paris School of Economics

Ishac Diwan is the Director of Research, Finance for Development Lab, Paris School of Economics. Previously, he was Chair d'Excellence Monde Arabe at Paris Sciences et Lettres, and visiting professor at SIPA, Columbia University. His research focuses on topics related to Political Economy of the Middle East, Development and Growth in Africa, Financial Flows and Trade – domestic and global issues. He received his PhD. in Economics from University of California, Berkeley. He is an ERF Research Fellow.

Content by this Author

The historical roots of state weakness and social inequities in Lebanon

After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and through the interwar period, Lebanon and much of modern Syria were administered under what was known as the French Mandate. This column explores the legacy of the arrangement, concluding that it had a highly negative impact on the post-independence economic, political, and social development of Lebanon.

To escape the crisis, embark on a path of renewal

In the chaotic global post-Covid-19 economy, with the war in Ukraine, the challenge of adjusting to the stagflation engulfing the world is particularly hard for the oil-importing countries of the Middle East and North Africa. This column summarises the key messages of a report from the MENA Commission on Stabilization and Growth.

Covid-19, trust and rising economic challenges in the Arab world

There is a common view that managing Covid-19 is all about making a trade-off between lives and livelihoods. But as this column explains, comparing global performance, countries have tended to do well, or not, on both health and economics simultaneously. A key correlate of successful country performance is a high level of trust in government, which makes compliance with public health and social measures more efficient – and therefore minimises economic casualty.

Lebanon’s dysfunctional political economy

Using the prospect of a flood of refugees as a bargaining chip in international negotiations, the government is happy to subsist on foreign exchange reserves while waiting to collect geopolitical rents. Yet as this Project Syndicate column argues, there is reason to hope that this strategy, which has already impoverished half the population, will fail.

Killer lockdowns

Most developed countries have responded to the Covid-19 crisis by imposing lockdowns to control the spread of infections rather than taking the ‘herd immunity’ approach that some have advocated. This column argues that poor countries should not necessarily mimic this response: for them, the risks of the herd immunity approach can be dwarfed by the risks of starvation, destitution, instability and violence arising from a prolonged lockdown.

Lebanon’s economic crisis: how to avoid a ‘lost decade’

An independent group of development specialists, economists and finance experts met in Beirut in late December to discuss Lebanon’s economic crisis and the way forward. This column summarises their ten-point action plan to arrest the crisis and place the country on a path of sustained recovery.

Cronyism reduces job creation in Lebanon

Firm-level political connections are widespread. This column examines whether they affect employment decisions in Lebanon, a country where the majority of university students think that connections are important for finding jobs and many admit to having used them.

Lebanon’s perfect storm

After years of maintaining a dysfunctional political economy based on sectarianism and rentierism, Lebanon's ruling elites are being confronted with simultaneous financial, economic and political crises. As this Project Syndicate column argues, the question now is how they respond to a reformist movement demanding fundamental change, including a new political settlement.

Low social and political returns to education in the Arab world

Arab societies urgently need to start looking at how to improve education systems, not just in ways to improve the marketability of individuals but, as importantly, to improve their social and political impact on society. Drawing on evidence from the World Values Survey, this column argues for strengthening a sense of community, beefing up values of civic engagement, inculcating democratic principles, supporting gender equality and promoting social tolerance.

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Egypt’s care economy needs to address deteriorating working conditions

A robust and high-quality care economy is critical for supporting women’s employment – as both an employer of women and a mechanism for redistributing unpaid care work to the market. Yet in Egypt, despite national goals of expanding care services, employment in the sector has been shrinking, while becoming increasingly privatised. As this column reports, care jobs have also experienced worsening conditions of work, including reduced formality and the emergence of a pay penalty for care workers.

Unemployment among young women in GCC countries

The average rate of unemployment among young women in the high-income countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is far higher than the equivalent for young men. This column reports new evidence on the extent to which flexible labour markets, in the context of a generous social contract, can reduce female youth unemployment rates in the region.

Boosting trade through flexible rules of origin in preferential agreements

Rules of origin are critical components of preferential trade agreements designed to stop products coming in under insufficient transformation or through the partner that applies the lowest tariff. But in practice, these rules are often needlessly complex, undoing the benefits of market access associated with trade agreements. This column reports research showing that the adoption of more flexible product-specific rules of origin within preferential agreements would give a significant boost to global trade.

Challenges of GCC investment in the energy transition

The countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have identified the energy transition as a crucial area of growth and are investing heavily in a diverse array of projects. However, as this column explains, the region faces a number of challenges in making a success of these investments, most notably its current dependence on fossil fuels, a lack of infrastructure and technical expertise, the high upfront costs, and geopolitical tensions.

The decline of social insurance in Egypt: directions for reform

The longstanding challenge for the Egyptian economy of providing its workers with decent, formal, socially insured jobs has become even more difficult. As this column explains, informality has been rising rather than falling, with a substantial reduction in social insurance coverage for the employed since the late 1990s. Reforms are needed to reverse this decline.

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.

Jordan: navigating through multiple crises

Jordan’s real GDP per capita is today no higher than it was 40 years ago. While external factors have undoubtedly had an adverse effect on the country’s economic outcomes, weak macroeconomic management and low public spending on investment and the social sectors have also played a substantial role. This column explores what can be done to reduce high public debt, accelerate private sector development and enhance social outcomes.

Making trade agreements more environmentally friendly in the MENA region

Trade policy can play a significant role in efforts to decarbonise the global economy. But as this column explains, there need to be more environmental provisions in trade agreements in which developing countries participate – and stronger legal enforcement of those provisions at the international level. The MENA region would benefit substantially from such changes.

Egypt and Iraq: amenities, environmental quality and taste for revolution

The Middle East and North Africa is a region marked by significant political turbulence. This column explores a novel dimension of these upheavals: the relationship between people’s satisfaction with, on one hand, the amenities to which they have access and the environmental quality they experience, and, on the other hand, their inclination towards revolutionary actions. The data come from the World Value Survey collected in 2018 in Egypt and Iraq.

Iran’s globalisation and Saudi Arabia’s defence budget

How might Saudi Arabia react to Iran's renewed participation in global trade and investment? This column explores whether the expanding economic globalisation of Iran, following the lifting of nuclear sanctions, could yield a peace dividend for Saudi Arabia, consequently dampening the Middle East arms competition. These issues have attracted increased attention in recent times, notably after a pivotal agreement between the two countries in March 2023, marking the resumption of their political ties after a seven-year conflict.