Economic Research Forum (ERF)

Khalid Abu-Ismail

Founding contributors

Khalid Abu-Ismail
United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia

Khalid Abu-Ismail is Chief of Economic Development and Poverty Section, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia and formerly Macroeconomics and Poverty Policy Adviser with UNDP’s Regional Center for Arab States. He provides policy advice and policy oriented research on topics related to Human Development, Poverty, Inequality and Economic Growth. He received his Doctor of Philosophy in Economics from New School for Social Research, New York. Abu-Ismail is an ERF Policy Affiliate.

Content by this Author

Arab countries are caught in an inequality trap

Conventional wisdom, based mainly on surveyed household income distribution statistics, suggests that inequality is generally low in Arab countries. At the same time, little attention has been devoted to social inequalities, whether in terms of outcomes or opportunities. This column introduces a forthcoming report, which offers a different narrative: based on the largest research project on the subject to date and covering 12 Arab countries, the authors argue that the region is caught in an inequality trap.

Falling rents should make way for institutional reforms in Arab states

Can the development prospects of the Arab countries be separated from the natural resource endowments that have been shaping their economies for so long? This column outlines the likely downward trajectories of per capita natural resource rents to 2030 – and the sense of urgency that those numbers should bring to discussions of the need for institutional reform.

MENA Generation 2030: Prospects for a demographic dividend

UNICEF’s new report, MENA Generation 2030, focuses on ‘investing in children and youth today to secure a prosperous region tomorrow’. This column discusses the prospects for a ‘demographic dividend’ in the region with the growing share of the working age population in the total population. The authors explore the barriers that impede realisation of the potential benefits and the policy actions that need to be implemented urgently. As the report underlines, the time to act is now.

Post-conflict macroeconomic challenges: Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen

Inflows of overseas development assistance are typically helpful for countries seeking to rebuild in the immediate aftermath of a civil conflict – but in the longer term, they can pose serious macroeconomic challenges. This column summarises the research evidence on the effects and effectiveness of aid, and draws lessons for Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen.

Fiscal policy to help escape MENA’s low productivity trap

Many countries in the Middle East and North Africa are locked in a ‘low productivity trap’ despite shifts in employment towards non-farm and non-oil sectors . This column makes the case for transformational changes in the macro-fiscal policy orientation to generate millions of new job opportunities for the growing educated youth and to improve the labour share of income to reduce poverty.

Extreme poverty in Arab states: a growing cause for concern

Extreme poverty is rising in Arab states and the outlook is concerning. This column outlines the latest figures and the implications for policies to promote inclusive and sustainable development in the region.

Galal Amin and the Egyptian middle class

A sense of ‘defeat’ among the Egyptian middle class was the main motivation for the uprising of 25 January 2011. In a tribute to economics professor Galal Amin, who passed away last month, this column explores what his analysis would suggest lay behind that feeling. The main culprit is the pursuit of stabilisation at any cost: macroeconomic stability rarely translates into more investment and better-quality jobs; liberalisation typically leads to crony capitalism and greater inequality; and it is the poor and the middle class who experience the pain.

Time to rethink inequality in Arab states

There are many gaps in our understanding of trends in both money metric inequality and multidimensional inequality in Arab states. This column previews a forthcoming report that will explore fundamental questions: why study inequality; with what theoretical approaches and measurement frameworks; and inequality between whom?

Tax reform for equity and fiscal space in middle-income Arab countries

Arab countries have systematically low tax collection rates relative to the size of their economies. What’s more, with rising military expenditures and lower oil prices, the public budgets of the oil-rich states are coming under growing pressure. This column argues that the time is right for region-wide fiscal policy reforms that enact fair and progressive taxation systems.

Multidimensional poverty in the poorest parts of MENA: agenda for action

A new measure of household poverty in the Arab countries provides the basis for tailored solutions across the region. This column reports the key findings of the first Arab Multidimensional Poverty Report and outlines an agenda for policy action.

An agenda for reducing income inequality in the Arab countries

What can be done to reduce income inequality in Arab countries? This column explores issues of measurement as well as potential policy measures. It concludes by calling for a new multipurpose pan-Arab survey that would allow for an evidence-based decision-making process on the impact of proposed policies on poverty and inequality.

Most read

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.

Recession without impact: why Lebanese elites delay reform

The survival of Lebanon’s political elites is highly dependent on the wellbeing of the economy. Why then do they delay necessary reform to avoid crisis? This column examines the role of politically connected firms in delaying much-needed economic stabilisation policies.

Arab countries are caught in an inequality trap

Conventional wisdom, based mainly on surveyed household income distribution statistics, suggests that inequality is generally low in Arab countries. At the same time, little attention has been devoted to social inequalities, whether in terms of outcomes or opportunities. This column introduces a forthcoming report, which offers a different narrative: based on the largest research project on the subject to date and covering 12 Arab countries, the authors argue that the region is caught in an inequality trap.

Competition laws: a key role for economic growth in MENA

Competition policy lacks the attention it deserves in the countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), a region characterised by monopolies and lack of market contestability. As this column explains, there are many questions about the extent of anti-competitive barriers facing new market entrants in the region. What’s more, MENA’s weak overall performance on competition is likely to be hindering economic growth and the path towards structural transformation.

The Egyptian economy is still not creating good jobs

Growth in Egypt has recovered substantially since the downturn following the global financial crisis and the political instability following the 2011 revolution – but what has happened to jobs? This column reports the results on employment conditions from just released data in the 2018 wave of the Egypt Labor Market Panel Survey.

How Egyptian households cope with shocks: new evidence

Managing risks and reducing vulnerability to economic, social, environmental and health shocks enhances the wellbeing of households and encourages investment in human capital. This column explores the nature of shocks experienced by Egyptian households as well as the coping mechanisms that they use. It also examines the relationship between such risks and job formality and health status.

The future of Egypt’s population: opportunities and challenges

Egypt’s potential labour supply depends on the growth and changing composition of its working-age population. This column reports the latest data on labour supply and fertility rates, concluding that the country has a window of opportunity with reduced demographic pressures to try to address longstanding structural challenges for the labour market.

Egypt’s labour market: facts and prospects

An ERF policy conference on the Egyptian labour market in late October 2019 focused on gender and economic vulnerability. This column summarises the key takeaways from the event.

Domestic demand and competition: a new development paradigm for MENA

A lack of competition in domestic and regional markets is holding back development in the Middle East and North Africa. This column argues that the region and the international community must ensure that barriers to market entry and exit are eliminated, and that independent regulatory bodies at the national and regional levels help to promote domestic demand as the main engine for sustainable and inclusive growth.

Gender discrimination in small business lending: evidence from Turkey

Discrimination in access to financial services can prevent women from exploiting their entrepreneurial potential. This column reports on a ‘lab-in-the-field’ experiment to test for the presence of gender discrimination in small business lending in Turkey.